Concert Review: Viva la Ronstadt!

10.24.08
Mariachi Los Camperos
Seattle Times

Oh, to have the range of a mariachi band.

A violin weeps a melody reminiscent of Old Spain, a harpist plucks. Then the nine-man ensemble goes full-blast, led by the brass, their sombreros carefully propped against the mic stands. It's like an oncoming army, in charro costumes. The audience cheers, some proffer the mariachi scream, a cousin of the Texan "yeehaw." Nati Cano, the head of Los Camperos, compels the Seattle audience to join in el grito del mariachi. Some try, only to be drowned by the lyric of an old patriotic classic: "Viva Mexico! Viva America! Oh suelo bendito de Dios... "

The many Spanish speakers in the audience couldn't be happier.

Linda Ronstadt's "Romantic Evening in Old Mexico," performed Thursday at the Paramount Theatre, felt like a whirlwind tour of that country's diverse musical heritage. Sones, the quintessential mariachi music of western Mexico, from the Mexican state of Jalisco, contrasted with the distinctly Caribbean tone of jarocho music from Veracruz and with ranchera music — dramatic, country-style ballads.

Rondstadt, in black dress, pink scarf and black cowboy boots, chose tunes from two of her albums, "Canciones de mi Padre" and "Mis Canciones," a tribute to the songs she heard when growing up in Tucson, Ariz.

A fan's request for "Blue Bayou" went unanswered. This was another Rondstadt, entirely in Spanish — a Mexican troubadour singing timeless songs about heartbreak. Her powerful voice is well-suited to the overly dramatic ranchera genre; but in Thursday's performance, she seemed somewhat distracted, as if reading the lyrics on the monitor at her feet in a few of the songs.

But los Camperos de Nati Cano, a 46-year-old ensemble that helped Rondstadt record "Canciones de mi Padre" in 1987, was spectacular. Mariachi bands are said to have begun in mid-19th century Jalisco and conquered Mexico and the rest of Latin America along with Mexican cowboy films; mariachi bands still perform at weddings, birthdays and quinceañeras all over the continent. In tourist traps like Mexico City's Plaza Garibaldi, this music can be cacophonous, or folksy. But on Thursday night, it was sleek.