Photo by Cortney Armitage
While it’s unlikely that any official study exists, I’d wager that it’s scientifically impossible to have anything but fun at a Chicano Batman show. The mix of soul, funk, Latin, and Tropicália styles that the L.A. band brings to life is practically the perfect recipe for a hip-shaking good time, and at the tail end of what has definitively been their biggest year yet as they’ve toured behind their latest full-length, Freedom Is Free, the group rolled through New York’s Irving Plaza and cooked up something hot.
For this round of dates, Chicano are sharing the bill with Texas instrumental outfit Khruangbin, and the pairing proved a particularly inspired one as the latter group’s psychedelic grooves had the crowd loosened up and ready to dance before the night segued into the high-spirited burst of energy that is Chicano Batman. Dressed, per usual, in matching maroon tuxedos, the band leaped onstage to roaring applause and launched into the spacey funk of “Angel Child,” shifting from Curtis Mayfield-funk to Os Mutantes-psychedelia and back again before the crowd knew what hit ‘em.
The band bounced around their catalog throughout the evening, from the punchier cuts off Freedom Is Free like “Jealousy” and “Friendship (Is a Small Boat In a Storm),” to the more winding, psychedelic tracks that characterized their earlier records. The set-closing run of “It’s a Balloon” and “Itotiani,” both off their self-titled 2010 debut, proved one of the shows highpoints, with the band landing expertly in the groove before embarking on Pink Floyd-esque synth passages or fiery guitar solos courtesy of frontman Bardo Martínez and guitarist Carlos Arévalo. The group also busted out another first-album track, “A Hundred Dead and Loving Souls,” which they had apparently not played in years and quickly worked out backstage after a last-minute decision to add it to the set.
As their star has grown and as the musical culture has shifted, Chicano Batman find themselves in the position of being a distinctly Latin-American band in a field with shamefully few, and it’s a heritage they wear proudly. Each little way they’re able to blend that musical culture with their numerous other influences feels like a triumph for this day and age. Seeing people from all different backgrounds singing along to Spanish lyrics on songs like “Flecha al Sol” or “La Manzanita” with even more passion than they had the English ones was a moment to be treasured, as was the chant of “Uno más!” in place of the usual “One more song!” before the encore.
When all was said and done, the show actually felt like a relatively subdued night for these guys, but a relatively subdued night for Chicano Batman still includes some coordinated dancing, experimental jams, and Bardo Martínez jumping off the drum riser multiple times and making impassioned calls for “peace and love” to an enthralled audience. As the people walking out into the rainy New York night would attest, this is a band worth seeing any time they’re in town, giving their all to each and every song with the sort of positive joy that’s become essential in 2017.