What started as a blog about Eva Ybarra‘s stirring show at Hi-Tones on November 29, ended up as a multi-band trip. My trip. Hers was one of three unforgettable nights in San Antonio, my three personal favorite musical moments of 2014. And I chose all three shows because, after seeing her rip it that night, I realized my trip had started a few weeks earlier, and that this wasn’t about Eva or any other bands mentioned on this blog: it was about all of them, and about those I don’t even mention. Allow me to explain.
Wasting my time on Facebook, I saw a post by Nick (Lonely Horse) announcing his excitement about an upcoming show by what he described as “the world’s best band.” Curious, I clicked on the link, and it was a story by Matt Stieb on the November 11 show by The Bolos, a band I had never seen before. Whenever Matt (the only thing Chucky and I ever agreed on) recommends a band, I pay attention. Dude’s into jazz, and knows what “good music” is. So I went to see the Bolos, and what I encountered was very similar to this April gig expertly shot by Greg Gabrisch, one of the best live music photographer in SA.
Short story: The Bolos blew me away right from the start. Five seconds into the first song I felt I was in the middle of a tsunami. An organic and ferocious blend of punk, blues, psychedelia by a bunch of young kids who seemed to not give a shit but who knew exactly what they were doing. And it all started with an amazing drummer named Sarek Gutiérrez, as elegant and precise as a jazz drummer, and as brutally powerful as a metalhead. If it’s true that “you’re as good as your drummer,” then the Bolos is a superb band.
So sorry, Eva. It was your night and I will write about it, but not only did you have a great performance: you became the cherry on everyone else’s pie, without even trying. I so want to start writing about you, but I can’t start before taking you back to a couple of earlier shows you missed, starting with the Bolos at the same venue that saw you shining.
That Bolos night at Hi-Tones was a memorable one. Besides the power of the music, it had an added element for me: hidden in the crazed crowd, was no other than Roland Delacruz (aka “Veracruz Delacruz”) and Chris Smart, guitarist and bassist, respectively, for Masters of Love (my favorite local band). They were both visibly moved like everyone else, especially Roland. Seeing them dig a young band reminded me of an obsession of mine: wondering when San Antonio musicians will stop these nonsensical age frontiers and begin to interact more with each other. I’ve lived in many cities in the world, and I don’t see that gap more pronounced than in SA. It could’ve been any other veterano digging the Bolos, but the fact that it was Masters of Love was of great significance to me. (Unfortunately, I don’t have any MOL videos, but just listen to these tracks and keep in mind they’re even better in concert.)
So the next night I go to The Mix to see MOL live, and while having a smoke at the door I see Roland walking by. We say hi, and start talking about that amazing set by the Bolos the night before.
“Those guys are great,” said Roland, “and the best part of it is that they know they’re great. They have the attitude. Many bands nowadays are playing this humble bullshit card, and some even admit ‘we’re not that good.’ Fuck that! You need that attitude, this is rock and roll!”
But the main topic was, and always is (with me, at least), the fact that San Antonio is an ideal place for collaborations between the young up-and-coming bands and the older cats from different genres who, for the most part, can outplay any young kid in town. Somehow, I feel that young, “hip” bands in SA couldn’t care less about what the older guys (and girls) are doing. To my surprise, minutes later who did I see digging Masters of Love at The Mix? Three members of the Bolos. I thought, “There is hope, after all.” Days after the show, I called Roland to revisit our talk and ask him the same question I asked all those quoted in this blog: Am I exaggerating or, indeed, the young bands don’t care about what, say, Mitch Webb & The Swindles (another older band that could pulverize the best of the young dudes with the exception of, perhaps, the Bolos)? Am I just an old (er) fart making a big deal out of nothing?
“[That young/old mutual interest] doesn’t happen too often [in SA]”, said Roland. “When we were young, that was a big part of our lives. But then you get old and raise families, so a lot of my friends have kids now, 8 years old, 10 years old, young adults, so they’re not out as much checking out the bands. Me and Chris Smart are single, so we still go out and check out bands. We’re free.”
Yes, I can understand that, but where I come from, whenever an old rocker had a show, the world stopped. We all flocked to see them and learn from them. How come I don’t see other band than the Bolos checking you out?
Well, the Bolos come to the shop a lot [Robot Monster Guitars], that’s how I got to know them.
OK, but I’m sure they’re not the only young band that goes to the shop. I think there must be some sort of chemistry between the two bands, besides personal chemistry. I think the fact the two baddest bands in SA are friends is no accident. You feed from each other. And I think that, if the SA music scene is ever going to explode, you need more collaborations between the generations and more of the conjunto element in the music. It’s weird Piñata Protest, Los De Esta Noche, and very few others are the only ones interested in the blending of punk and conjunto, to name just one of the endless SA possibilities. That’s our unique thing, we have everything we need to be an original scene, unlike any other.
Oh, definitely. That’s what I’m trying to do. I always go out and check out new bands and tell others about them. I don’t just want to play with my old friends all the time. I tell them, “We should all be playing with the other bands,” you know? And the other bands should be playing with us.
But who should make the first move?
Both should. It’s a mutual thing. I’m out there all the time. The problem is that the Mitch Webbs, when [they’re] not gigging, [they] gotta be at home with [their] family, you know?
Don’t get me wrong: I’m all for the DIY punk thing of “fuck the old” and “let’s do our thing” and all that, but on the other, I see guys like Mitch, you and so many others, outplaying everybody else, and I think, “Fuck, I wish there was some new kid here to learn how a live band should sound.” Of course, sooner or later, everyone learns just by doing it. But not taking advantage of local legends, in order to learn faster, it’s a waste of time. I feel that thing in the air of older bands not being “cool” or something. And that’s idiocy. It’s 2015, dammit. There’s room for improvement in punk. Is that the problem? The “cool” element getting in the way of the ageless cool?
That’s part of it. But mostly I just see it as the young kids not going there because it’s just not part of their scene. There’s too much stuff in their scene and are not willing to explore. Yes, The Swindles are not punk rock, but they’ll kick their ass. They rock. They don’t play like a bunch of old guys, there’s excitement in their shows. But some of the young kids are just stuck in their scene. They do the same thing that I don’t want to do: booking with the same bands. They’re all friends, and that’s what they get stuck in. And I don’t know how to make them come. When I saw the Bolos I said to myself, “They’re not gonna come to my show on their own,” so I decided to go to their gig and afterwards I told them, “Hey, guys, we should do a gig together.” I took the initiative to do that. They didn’t know about the Masters until I told them.
So is there hope for a MOL/Bolos double bill in early 2015? That would be the ultimate intergenerational night.
Yes, we’re working on it. I want to do it in Spring, but the ball’s in their court now.
So I called the Bolos and asked them the same question: “Am I overreacting?”
“Roland and Chris are two role models for us,” said Tanner, guitarist for the Bolos. “We look up to them. Robot Monster is our go-to spot. But besides that, their music is great. It’s just rock’n’roll, fucking amazing. Roland’s guitar is amazing, it really inspires me.
And do you agree that most younger bands don’t play enough attention to bands like MOL?
There is a generational gap. Yeah, you’re right. You don’t really see younger guys going to a lot of shows like that, going to see people like the Masters of Love.
Don’t the older guys outplay anyone in town, or in any town?
Oh, absolutely. (laughs) Definitely. The Masters of Love, that was the first show they played all year and we were really excited about that. To be honest with you, Roland had asked us to play with the Masters that night, but we had played the night before and also our drummer was out of town.
By the way, man, you have a kick-ass drummer.
Yeah, he’s good. Sadly, it sucks, because I don’t think he’ll be playing with us anymore.
It’s his last semester in school and he’s trying to focus on school.
That really sucks. I even tweeted a photo of him that night, “Is this the best SA drummer?” He blew me away. He’s like a jazz drummer with the ferocity of John Bonham. Like Bonham and Watts rolled into one.
He is! He’s classically trained. He teaches percussion, has a school.
Well, I hope he finishes whatever it is he needs to finish and comes right back. Just make sure your next drummer is an interim one, please. The new guy has big shoes to fill for sure. Anyway, will you and MOL play together in 2015?
Who would open for whom?
Oh, we’d love to open for them.
The answer is correct!
Yeah, this year I moved downtown and got to meet many of the older guys, who are doing amazing things.
Well, talk to your young colleagues, everyone should be checking everyone out!
Yeah! Like I said, Roland and Chris have been very cool to us.
What did you learn from them as a musician?
Man… (laughs) Don’t give up on what you love even if you’re never going to make it big. Roland is a great guitarist, and if there is anything wrong with my guitar he fixes it, no problem. He’s a master of his craft. He’s been involved in this for so long and he hasn’t strayed away from anything. Even after all these years he seems to be having a badass time.
We need to keep him single so he can continue to go out every night to check out bands.
That’s love, man…. and he’s a master of it.
So the bad news is Sarek is gone, at least for the immediate future. The good news is that he may perform one last time with the Bolos this January 5 at Faust. The info came from the man himself, whom I contacted yesterday to confirm his situation with the band.
“I recently told the guys in The Bolos that I needed to leave the band because things were getting too intense and we were playing a lot of shows,” Sarek told me via Facebook. “Since I have classes that start at 8 a.m. every day, it gets tough on the body when you play shows so late at night, then have to wake up at 6 a.m. (I know this makes me sound like a grandpa). Funny enough, Tanner just called me today asking to play a show at Faust on Monday for fun.”
Just when I was about to celebrate, I get a second message from Sarek.
“I’m not sure what is happening with the Jan. 5th show,” Sarek wrote. “Tanner said it might not go down because we responded late to the booker’s message to us. But anyways I’m sure I’ll hop in on a Bolo show in the near future since they haven’t found a new drummer yet. The band will post something I’m sure. Cheers.”
As a farewell present to us, Sarek shared a gem for the fans.
“Osita [Anusi, bassist for the Bolos] and I made a record in Los Angeles with Jungle Noize a year or so ago. Here is a mini documentary on that recording session from the album RAGA. I figured you would like it. Cheers.”
Cheers, man. And thanks for this.
Shit! I don’t think Sarek knew I was a Hare Krishna (albeit in very poor standard). I was hooked with the “raga” title, but when I heard the maha-mantra I almost flipped. Now I understand why I was so impressed by Sarek’s skills: besides his obvious talent, there’s a Vaikuntha connection there. Thanks again!
OK, me fui al carajo. Back to Planet Earth.
My hope of someone tearing the generational wall down kept growing as November advanced. On the 29th, Travis Buffkin (of DT Buffkin & The Bad Breath fame) hosted a show headlined by Eva Ybarra, the Queen of Accordion, a conjunto legend and one of the most respected female accordionists in the world. Unbeknownst to me, Travis had written an Eva Q&A in September for the Current, but just having him opening for her was one of those intergenerational genius moments that just don’t happen too often in SA. Buffkin (vocals, guitar, keyboard) played with Roland Delacruz on guitar, Michael Kelly on trumpet/keys/percussion, Luis Faraklas Treviño on bass and Ken Robinson on drums. This is how they started the set.
Eva caught the last part of his set, and she was into it. By the time it was her moment to set up, she was thrilled. While her band (brother David Ybarra on bass, Ramón Sánchez on bajo sexto and Pete López on drums) was checking the mics, she waited patiently on the side. Her face was radiant. She was happy to play in front of people from all ages, but mostly for a young crowd eager to see her. Just look at her.
Then, out of the blue, DJ Rae D Cabello played a 45 by Little Francisco Greaves, and Eva went wild. She started improvising with her accordion, in a surreal conjunto-meets-funk-and-soul moment. Imagine being at a packed Hi-Tones listening to this song two feet from Eva Ybarra and her keys. While she was at it, she looked radiant.
(This was typical Eva. I remember one time when Azul Barrientos was singing and playing guitar at the Guadalupe years ago, and in the middle of a bolero an uninvited Eva started accompanying her on accordion; Eva’s a sponge, the Zelig of musicians).
Eva finally started her show, and she kicked everyone’s ass and reminded us of what an underrated singer she is. She jumped for a stirring popurrí to parts of her own originals (sometimes using only instrumental shuffle parts) to classics like “La Múcura,” boleros, polkas, all while the all-ages (but mostly young) crowd went completely bananas. And not just because it was “fun” to see an older woman play dance music for accordion, but because she was absolutely rocking the house.
The show was a shot of adrenaline for a local conjunto legend who is universally praised but who, like most local legends, is performing, recording, and working much less than she should. Remember Esteban Jordan, El Parche? No one was bigger and badder than him (except for Flaco), but I was there one of his last Friday nights at Saluté and there were five of us (and that’s counting Azeneth, the bar owner). When legends die, we all cry and remember their “legacy.” But when they’re alive, chances are they’re dead broke. We suck.
So keep in mind: Eva is vivita y coleando and, at least for that one magical night, she was happy, fulfilled. And all because a crazy rockero wanted to play on the same night as her (more on that guy later).
“At first it was a scary thing, because [the crowd] was real young and I thought they weren’t going to like my music,” Eva told me days after the show. “But at the very end I was very surprised. They enjoyed Eva’s music, I don’t know if you noticed that.”
Are you kidding? From the get go, you got ’em! They went nuts!
At the end they were saying, “Eva, Eva, Eva!” Clapping and clapping. It was a good match. The rockeros enjoyed conjunto music.
How often does that happen?
Not very often. [Conjunto] is for everyone, young or old. Everyone can enjoy. But this was the first time I played for a younger crowd. I’ve played for mixed crowds, but this time I played in front of a mostly younger crowd. Travis interviewed me for the Current, like you used to, and told me he had a gig for me at Hi-Tones, and I’m very thankful to him.
I don’t understand why these collaborations don’t happen more often. The older musicians are much better players, with lots of experience and…
That’s what makes the difference: experience.
But the young bands also have good things to offer. Do you feel energized when you play with or for young kids?
Yes! At the end of the show, this young girl told me, “Eva Ybarra is my hero.” And I felt so proud (gets emotional for a couple of seconds). Another one said, “You’re badass! No, I’m going to say it my way: You’re fucking badass!” (laughs) A young colored lady told me that. I was in Cloud Nine.
Yet, whenever a local legend dies, everyone mourns him/her and reminds us how great he/she was, but many leyendas die penniless in SA, playing for peanuts or not playing at all. Do you think we’re neglecting our old music masters?
Yeah, it’s been a struggle for me too. I’ve recorded for Rounder Records with the help of Cathy Ragland, who was my manager. But [labels] closed the doors for me. “Just leave your material here,” and they never call me back. I don’t know why. Is it because I’m a lady?
I’ll look into that. I promise you, Eva.
But those who know, know. One of those was present at Hi-Tones: Álvaro Del Norte, singer/accordionist for Piñata Protest and an exception to the rule. Here’s someone who knows where it’s at and one of the few faces I always see whenever any local master performs.
“Yes, there is a divide,” said Álvaro. “It’s not that it’s totally lost, though. There’s plenty of young people getting into it, but it’s not as strong now as it used to be.”
Yes, but I’ve been in SA for 10 years and this was the first time I saw a conjunto artist playing for a mostly young crowd. You once told me you naturally rebelled to your parent’s music, until you were a little older and took a second look and fell in love.
Yeah, high school kids don’t like it. But as you get a little bit older, people go back to their culture and the music they grew up listening to.
But specifically, the local bands, most of them are not like you, who have one foot in the punk world and another in the conjunto world. Why in a place like SA we don’t see more bands like that? It seems natural to me, given the musical elements of the city. I don’t mean everyone should add an accordion to their band, but at least pay more attention to the music around them, the music being made by the still relevant (and alive) masters. Let’s face it: San Antonio’s only hope to develop a unique sound, is through conjunto music. And the local scene will never explode until people recognize that. If we don’t protect and care about the local conjunto masters, it’ll be like living in New Orleans and not care about what the old local jazzmen are doing. For many years it was San Antonio, not Austin, the center of the music world in South Texas. Then it all changed, and we lost our relevance to the degree that we turned our backs to our native sounds. Mainly, conjunto.
I completely agree. We’re not Austin, we’re San Antonio. We have our own special blend of music, just like New Orleans has its music, Nashville, New York, California has its sound… We’ve got to keep that tradition alive, because that’s what made us special. We do need those collaborations. It all comes down to people wanting to rediscover their roots and realizing, “Hey, this stuff is pretty cool, and it’s cool to be different.” It’s a lot better to do something different, to be your own self instead of trying to fit in.
Do you see any urgency on the part of your colleagues to try to create something with all these legends that will be gone in the next few years? “We need to record with this guy, we need to record with this guy!” Is that happening at all?
Yeah, you’re right. It doesn’t click until your mid-20s, until you’re older, and that’s unfortunate. That’s why I was so glad to see Eva at Hi-Tones and that she had a great show. I hope it encourages her to venture out to some of this all-ages venues. She definitely has an audience and I hope she continues it, because she had a great response.
Eva at Hi-Tones wouldn not have happened without Travis Buffkin, a cynical man who only acts when something really great moves him. Someone like Eva.
“With me coming from a punk-rock background, there is a lot of attitude about like, ‘fuck these old guys, we’re young and we’re pissed and we’re going to do it better than them because they’re older and comfortable,'” told me Travis a few days ago. “But for me, as I got older, I realized that I don’t have to write the same aggressive, political music, you know? I feel more confident in myself and the things that I like, so I don’t have to wear all that shit on my sleeve. It took me like until I was 24 or 25 to get over that ego trip of thinking you’re in the best band there is. There’s something to be learned from people that are still badass and older.”
Especially when they play better than anyone else. Do you agree the “old” guys are usually much better players?
Yes, I do. That’s one thing I like about Roland playing with us. I think they should start bands playing together [the old and the young]. When I see Roland playing with the Masters, I try to get him really drunk, and me and some friends try to de-tune his guitar. We just try to fuck him up. Sometimes they’re so goddamn good, you want them to fuck up a little bit. The reason why you go see the young bands is because the young bands don’t give a shit. It’s Friday night, they have a gig, so they’re going to get fucked up, which is a great attitude, that’s fucking rock’n’roll. And the funny thing is, Masters, Los #3 Dinners and these guys they do it, and they do it so well, that sometimes you just want to throw a wrench into the thing. I’m not saying it’s almost not rock’n’roll, but it’s just a different angle of doing it well. When you’re young you suck and you do that well. And Roland knows this. He always says to me, “If you want to be a real shitty band, know you’re shitty and don’t give a shit that you’re shitty.” It’s not about being a proficient player, it’s about attitude.
Don’t get me wrong: mistakes are good. Some, at least. Somebody said “creativity is not being afraid of making mistakes, and art is knowing which mistakes to keep.” But, dude, there’s nothing wrong with good playing either, is there? And everybody makes mistakes, even the Masters. But that band sounds like a unit, like a fucking bulldozer. So do the Bolos, but in a completely different, more… wonderfully sloppy way. But you mentioned something I’m completely for: older guys making bands with young kids. Fuck co-ed. What we need is co-age. That’s the key for the future in SA, I think. Like a great soccer team that mixes youth with experience.
Oh, yeah, absolutely. You’re right, you’re right. That would be badass, because it would solve both issues: the Masters are so tight because they’ve been doing it for so long. And if they’d played like shit it would be embarrassing. But they should play with younger people, and viceversa. It wouldn’t hurt. The things that bums me out… I don’t know how it is in Austin, I don’t know how it is anywhere else, but… It took me a while to pull my head out of my ass and [stop saying], “Just because I’m young and I have a lot of piss and vinegar still in me, I can’t take advice from other people.” I can’t say if we will, like, become the new cool place in that regard… Not to put words into your mouth, but as far as the coin flippin’ again [Austin/SA], I don’t think it would hurt at all to see Piñata Protest with Flaco. That would be something us, as a generation, would be fucking proud of. And I think Flaco would benefit from it, because it will be, you know, a new audience. Not that people my age don’t know who Flaco is, but there’s nothing to lose from it.
Flaco did play on Café Tacuba’s first album. He did a tremendous solo on “Las Persianas”. A couple of years ago I asked him about it, and he didn’t remember it. So there you go…
What’s taking me a couple of years to figure out… We’re the DT Buffkin band, you know, I don’t really know who to play with, that’s where the whole Eva thing came along. I knew that Flaco didn’t need any help playing Hi-Tones. he played there before. I got to talk to Eva for a Current article. I got in touch with her and I just figured, “Man, I want to play with a conjunto legend, and this looks like an opportunity.” As you could tell, [DT Buffkin & the Bad Breath is not] playing ragtime shit anymore, we’re just kind of moving away from that.
Yes, and I loved it. But why settle with “playing with” as in “sharing the bill”? Why didn’t you actually shared the stage at the same time with Eva?
She asked about that, she was wondering if we were going to play together. Honestly, I’m not… I guess I could fake it, but i wouldn’t want to embarrass her.
Oh, c’mon, man… Next time, make sure you get in there with her. She would’ve loved it and I’m sure it would’ve been great. She loved your band and was very grateful to you.
I would ask her to play in one of our tunes, before I’d try to play with her.
Yeah, next time, please do it.
Yeah! They want to have her back. I think [Hi-Tones] is booked until March, but I’m trying to get her a date for April. I’ll let you know.
I don’t have New Years’ resolutions. I’m past the age when to want = to do. But i can still dream. And I dream that in 2015 the young kids will cut the crap and listen more to the local masters and try to record with them. And that Chris Smart and Roland Delacruz stay single for many years to come.
Happy New Year!