It’s not a combination you’d expect to work — the sylph-like mercurial melodies of the tango and the choppy, mechanized rhythms of electronic dance — but on “Revancha del Tango” (XL/Beggar’s Group), the Gotan Project pulls them together in a cool fusion that’s grounded and earthy but slippery like smoke.
Hazy, smudged around the edges and blissfully dismissive of genre, Gotan manages to pull you into its dark seductive world. In its debut American performance, the Paris- and Rio-based group wowed the sweaty Fonda aud.
Playing bandoneon, piano, violin and acoustic guitar and featuring female vocals, the live musicians looked and sounded like a traditional tango band. It was easy to imagine them, dressed in their dark suits, in the corner of a Parisian cafe, the music’s worldly melancholy providing a perfect soundtrack to a new wave movie. On a riser above them, Philippe Cohen Solal and Christophe Mueller stoically manned the turntables and computers, the beats and samples nudging the music in unexpected directions, sometimes (in the evening’s weakest moments) overwhelming it in layers of dub echo and hip-hop clatter.
At its best, the music has an astonishing reach, managing to bring Astor Piazzolla, Frank Zappa, Gato Barbieri (on his “Last Tango in Paris,” Cohen Solal and Mueller engaged pianist Arnaldo Zanelli in a jazzy improvisation) to the fore and, in the evening’s breathtaking finale, mash up Eminem’s “Without Me” with a classic tango rhythm. This spikiness kept the music from turning into innocuous hipster Muzak.
Unfortunately, the evening’s visual elements suffered from art school pretension. For the first half of the evening, the band performed behind a scrim on which short clips were projected. The images of women and dancers (and later shadows) were pleasant for a song or two, but they overstayed their welcome, and the diaphanous fabric was a distraction. Once it came down, the music and performance warmed up.
Gotan Project plays New York’s Central Park Summerstage today and returns to Los Angeles on Oct. 18 as part of UCLA Live’s fall season.