Concert review: Chicano Batman with Lido Pimienta | 05.02.24, Delmar Hall (with photo gallery)

Photo of by Chicano Batman’s Bardo Martinez by Karl Beck

I woke up the next morning with a little cumbia bounce in my step, humming to myself, ironically, “De todo lo que yo te di | ya no me queda nada,” from Lido Pimienta’s “Nada.”  I walked around the house that afternoon serenading myself with some Chicano Batman lyrics: “Era primavera | Estábamos afuera | El sol nos abrazaba | Y yo como te amaba.” It was a welcome continuation of the night before, filled with dancing and love songs and a dose of social commentary. Both acts on this stellar double-bill seemed pleased with the turnout at Delmar Hall—in audience size as well as composition of Spanish speakers. Over the course of the evening, we were treated to a range of vocal styles, languages, dance moves, and a lot of cultural pride in musical traditions from Colombia by way of Canada and Chicano Los Angeles.

With a simple set of synthesizer, percussion, and a woven tapestry separating her set from that to follow, Lido Pimienta laid the foundation for the evening with the opening track “Para Transcribir” from her 2020 album, Miss Colombia. While her lyrics are primarily in Spanish, this rendition included some additional statements in English on her choice to raise three children by herself—and she would do it all over again.

The dynamics of love, sexuality, parenting, and politics weighed heavy on her mind as she chatted between songs and geared up her electronic elements. We learned that “Nada” was written after the difficult birth of her daughter, to warn her child of the fight for reproductive rights and so many other challenges she would face in her life as a girl in a challenging world. We learned that in 2021, Pimienta became the first female of color to compose the score for a New York City Ballet production in the company’s 73-year history, “Big win for me, big L for them. There are a lot of amazing women making music out there, you know?” And we learned that the incredible percussionist handling a multitude of elements, Mas Aya, was “Baby Daddy Number 2,” which may explain some of the unspoken communication that gave rhythms to drive her dancing and drew slight knowing smiles from his generally stoic concentration. 

Pimienta’s expressive voice uses commands everything from whispers to operatic projection to deliver her messages: a delicate, storytelling inside voice, a powerful cantaora-style she told us comes from channeling an ancestor, and a fierce metal growl when singing about “rainbows, unicorns, fluffy soft things, feminine things, like rage.” With her feet curtained by a voluminous yellow skirt, she shuffled across the stage in steps so tiny, so subtle, she appeared to float back and forth in front of the textile backdrop. Her hands helped her voice find its exit from her body, reaching high or low, holding or dipping the note, trilling like a bird or pulling deep from the gut. In a short but powerful set, we were sold mangos with all the ensuing innuendo with a microphone (boy- and girl-part versions), we sang “Yo te boté, yo te boté” along with the chorus on “Te quería,” and we cheered on her reemergence from a major life setback in “Quiero Jardines.”

With a final tiny “thank you,” Lido Pimienta exited the stage to make way for the band that invited her on this tour: Chicano Batman. The set-change soundtrack of disco grooves aptly introduced the change in tone, in contrast with Lido Pimienta and in evolution from the band’s earlier lazy lounge sound.

Gone were the matching outfits of the bygone Chicano Batman. On this tour, they swapped their tuxedos and cummerbunds for slick jackets and sleeveless shirts, though the sunglasses and tailored fits remained. Lead singer Bardo Martinez burst onstage in a mod colorblocked Nehru jacket over black spandex flares, while bassist Eduardo Arenas wore white from head-to-toe with his trademark tinted lenses. The third original member of the band, Carlos Arévalo, continued in the suited tradition, standing alone in a purple jacket and pants over a black shirt.

The band has seen several other changes, including the hiatus of original drummer Gabriel Villa, and the evolution of Martinez to more of a frontman role. He has always been the primary voice of Chicano Batman, but as the sound has moved from trippy grooves in wedding singer uniforms to dancier tunes in individual styles, Martinez has developed into a more distinct performer persona. Stationed front-and-center, he bounded around the stage, and off the stage, giving more pantomime to the lyrics and engaging with the audience. He still picked up the guitar and set to the keys on occasion, as in the introduction to a show-stopping rendition of “La Jura,” featuring Arenas on vocals stunning even himself: “What just happened there?” But a second keyboardist posted in back alongside the guest drummer to fill some gaps resulting from Martinez’s transition into a vocal force and instrumental accent.

The set opened with the tender ripper “Beautiful Daughter” from their latest release, Notebook Fantasy, and then dug deep for “Itotiani” from their first album, 2010’s self-titled release, eliciting a chorus of synchronous cooing from the audience. It was an effective bridge from past to present, English and Español, and the remaining setlist sampled across languages as well as their five studio albums.

Perhaps owing to the mood set by Lido Pimienta, the crowd seemed most energized by the Latin rhythms of the set. Arenas moved to center stage for the oldie and goodie, “La Manzanita,” generating a riot of percussion and dancing onstage and drawing a few gritas from the audience while the band jammed it out. Similarly, the newer “Lei Lá” swept us up in its dizzying drum beats, entrancing us to chant along in a daze.

Throughout the set, Martinez was a ball of energy, exiting the stage between songs and reappearing with a new configuration of attire. The Nehru jacket came off to reveal a Bruce Lee shirt beneath. The whole lot of it was swapped out for a shirtless ’70s-style ski coat. The coat disappeared entirely, reappeared, disappeared again for Martinez to gyrate in nothing but spandex flares. The Bruce Lee shirt made another appearance. In his increased capacity as frontman, Martinez made contact with the audience, walking amongst us several times and grabbing an audience member’s phone to sing directly into the camera.

If we were going to hear relatively little from 2020’s Invisible People, at least “Color My Life” was a great choice. We also got a small taste of 2017’s Freedom is Free with the title track. Older albums were more heavily represented, with an exceptional performance of “Cycles of Existential Rhyme” from 2014’s album by the same name, stretched out to give all the mates some flex time at their posts and reminding me of the keys-centric psychedelic vibe where it all began.

Where Lido Pimienta gave us plenty of charming chatter, Chicano Batman was all body language and little to no verbal, which seemed to suit the crowd just fine, as we were all in a dancing mood. The floor drew more audience participation with each song, and by the time they closed with “Black Lipstick” we were in a collective groove. My only wish was for a Lido Pimienta / Chicano Batman tag team, as anyone who follows their socials knows does happen from time-to-time. But comparison is the thief of joy, and what they gave us was plenty special and full of heart on its own. | Courtney Dowdall

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