Saturday, May 12, 2012
Fox Theater, Oakland
Better than: Watching Pitbull, another short, bald dude with Caribbean roots, try to rap.
Puerto Rico natives, Calle 13 (pronounced Kah-yeh-trehs-seh), are most recognized for their 2005 dance anthem "Atrevete-te-te." The song entices listeners to "get up and get hyper," and that's just what bandleaders and stepbrothers René Joglar and Eduardo Cabra did along with nine other musicians at the Fox Theater on Saturday night.
Before the crowd morphed into a sea of Puerto Rico flags flailing everywhere, Bay Area locals Bang Data opened to a surprisingly receptive crowd. We weren't sure what to expect from a tattooed frontman known as Deuce Eclipse (who wore his hair in two long braids), and a bassist that looked like a shorter, Latino version of U2's The Edge dressed in all black. But behind Deuce Eclipse's thuggish appearance were not only on-point Spanish and English flows, but a melodic singing voice that drove each chorus. A remix of Tupac's "California Love" with Spanish lyrics and cumbia rhythms pointed to their hip-hop, Peruvian, and Nicaraguan influences, and riled up the crowd up so much that the floor shook.
A mixed audience -- including a fair share of high-heeled Latinas with voluminous hair and big earrings, and more blondes than expected -- rushed to the lower stage as the headlining islanders went on at 9:30 p.m. Boasting a large brass and percussion section, Calle 13's overabundant set required some stretches to keep up.
With 19 Latin Grammy awards under its belt, the group played songs spanning its career, from the Reggaeton-heavy debut album to the more recent politically charged songs on latest release Entren Los Que Quieran.
Live, the voice of Joglar (also known as Residente) sounded smoother and less raspy than it can on recordings. That actually worked in his favor, giving his performance more passion. Ileana Cabra, better known as PG-13, backed up her brother Eduardo (aka Visitante) on vocals and was the only woman in the group, but gave a disappointing performance. She barely made use of the stage. More energy from the petite performer would have made up for her sometimes-nasally vocals, but in such a dense set, it was forgivable.
Critic's Notebook: Residente should follow his bandmate's lead and lose the Jersey Shore uniform of tank tops and Adidas track pants he likes to live in. In contrast with most modern rap shows, there was no excessive on-stage alcohol consumption, no oversized lettering illuminating the band's name, and no slutty back up dancers. Calle 13's main focus seemed to be engaging its audience with the music and the message. It's refreshing to know that these types of artists exist.