Gotan Project

January 30th, 2004

I was listening to Gotan Project’s ‘La Revancha Del Tango’, and it made me reflect on last year’s concerts; in 2003, I was wowed by Zakir Hussain and friends, nearly headbanged my head right off seeing Amon Amarth, finally got to see my favorite band Rage, saw a three-hour marathon from Ween that was filmed for their DVD, and had my socks knocked off by Estradasphere for the third time in a row. But I actually think the most memorable show might have been Gotan Project.

The album (their only one) is tango music backed by modern electronics and beats. It’s one of the best albums I’ve gotten in the last three or four years, and while I was really excited to see they were visiting the Metro in Chicago (on October 23rd), I wasn’t really sure what to expect, or how their music would translate in a live environment.

Way past the scheduled starting time of the show, they still hadn’t let anyone inside. Then once we got in and stood around for a while, we were informed that the piano needed to be tuned. I never would have even guessed the Metro HAD a piano! Finally the show began.

At the front of the stage was an enormous translucent screen that stretched from floor to ceiling and all the way to the edges. Behind it, the band members were lit by yellow-white footlights, and they’d fade in and out like hazy apparitions as they played. Simultaneously, a projector was showing video clips on the screen. Somewhat similar to Godspeed You! Black Emperor, but a bit less obscure, we saw loops of giant tango dancers, galloping horses from an old Western, and a variety of other things. Depending on where you focused your eyes, you could either watch the screen or what was behind it, and it really created quite an atmosphere.

But there was still an appreciative cheer when after four or five songs, the screen suddenly dropped to the floor. Across the front of the stage, there was a pianist hammering away at the baby grand, the beautiful Cristina Villalonga on vocals, a bandoneon player (the accordion of the tango), an acoustic guitarist, and a violinist. Behind, on a riser, were two of the main guys behind the project, Philippe Cohen Solal and Christoph H. M?ller. One was mostly flipping switches and twiddling knobs, while the other spent his time swapping and spinning records. All (except Cristina, of course) were dressed in finely-tailored suits that could have been straight from the ’30s.

PopMatters says “The Gotan guys blend the sexy syncopations of tango with the dark, echoing textures of dub and the beats of house and nu jazz to create a sound that is at once timeless and extremely modern, familiar and completely original, and basically just so darn all-around hip that it’ll infuse your squalid little urban apartment with all the allure of a smoke-filled Parisian jazz club.” That same transformation that occurs inside squalid apartments was even more powerful at the Metro, and although I’ve never been in a smoke-filled Parisian jazz club, I have to imagine they nailed it just right.

One of the things that makes the disc so great is how the music is so laid-back and cool, yet it maintains a driving, pulsing fire smoldering deep within. In the live situation, the fire was even more noticable when the instrumentalists would take flight. And then there were the smoldering, smoky vocals of Cristina. She didn’t contribute to every song, but when she was singing, she had such a presence that it was hard to focus attention anywhere else. When she wasn’t singing, she’d stand and stare in perfect stillness, almost like a mannequin. There were many times throughout the night when I felt like I was in the ‘Silencio’ scene from David Lynch’s “Mulholland Drive”. (and yes, that’s a good thing).

The basically played the whole album along with a couple of other songs, and in the end I got much more from the show than I had hoped for. The combination of creative and engaging music with an equally creative and engaging presentation made for quite a night.