The second installment of KCRW’s World Festival at the Hollywood Bowl featured two bands that were worlds apart: Mexico’s Cafe Tacuba and Britain’s Groove Armada. But the two acts were divided by more than their nationalities and native languages, as Tacuba performed a set filled with energy and personality while the Brits exhibited almost none.
Tacuba hit the Bowl’s stage running and never let up for the nearly 90-minute show. Singer Ruben Albarran leapt around the stage with exaggerated movements, wearing a white suit with a white fedora pulled down so low on his head that eye holes had to be cut just above the brim. The rest of the band (dressed in stark black-and-white outfits) bounced in place, looking like cartoon characters come to life.
Unmistakably urban and jaunty, the speedy runs of songs such as “No Controles” (from their most recent MCA album, “Cuatro Caminos”) and “Chilanga” feel like slices of Mexico city life, with people energized but also seeking solace though hot and crowded streets.
The influence of American alt-rock bands such as Violent Femmes was apparent, especially in the frenetic but airy arrangements and the voicing of the acoustic guitars (drummer Victor Indrizzo, who has played with Beck, Dave Gahan and Scott Weiland, sat in on two new songs). But the members of Tacuba are a quirkier bunch: Albarran can sound raspy and bemused or take his voice up to a sweet falsetto, and the music incorporates bits of everything from the Beach Boys to hip-hop — and a lot more fun. More than anything else, they can sound like great punky pop eccentrics such as Wreckless Eric and Jilted John.
The band made no concessions to an American aud, singing and making song introductions in Spanish. But you didn’t need any language to know that Albarran — dancing on the ledge that separates the pool from the garden boxes, grabbing drinks proffered by fans, a Cheshire cat grin on his face — was the happiest man in the amphitheater. And his joy was contagious.
Groove Armada had just the opposite effect. In what was billed as a rare “live band” appearance by the house music stars, the five musicians and three singers pulled off an almost impossible trick: They managed to make a full band perf less exciting than seeing two guys play DJ. The problem was that neither Tom Findlay nor Andy Cato — the two musicians behind Groove Armada’s recordings who were featured in the photos promoting the show — was anywhere to be seen (Findlay was listed in the program as “producer,” but what that has to do with a live performance is questionable).
The music was fine, four-on-the-floor house music that can’t fail to get the head nodding, but it could just as easily have been on tape. The vocalists tried to get the aud involved, and a few folks did get up and dance, but when the aud realized that the vocals to “I See You Baby” were on tape, most decided to concentrate on their meals and treated Groove Armada as background music.