Chicano Batman @ Star Theater: Live Review

Seeing Chicano Batman live was, in my exact post-show words: “the most beautiful experience.” I felt beautiful. The world looked brighter, even at 2am in Chinatown.

Their music is soulful, fun, makes you want to move, makes you think, makes you think of home and family and love and jamaica* on the beach. Chicano Batman is pure L.A, pure Chicanx, whatever that means to you.  Between songs and sips of Tecate, they must have said “We are from Los Angeles, California” at least four times, as if we could forget. And every time, the California natives in the crowd lost their minds. At every Spanish syllable sung (Chicano Batman often write in a mixture of Spanish and English) you could almost hear little Chicanx hearts breaking for joy all across the room. Even me, a white female and a 3rd generation Oregonian, I felt the amistad of every Chicanx person I’ve ever known, I felt the love they gave me, the meals we shared, the tears we’d shed over love and pain and politics.

Chicano Batman operates in another dimension, both musically and culturally, but beyond all of that: it is simply nice to listen to. So give them a listen before you keep reading, and thank me later.

‘Freedom is Free’ as a whole might very well be the definition of Chicanismo* manifested in music. It is equally joyful, tragic, hilarious, serious, lighthearted, and political. For example, Flecha Al Sol is an upbeat Spanish-lyricked song that tells a traditional Pueblo Indian folktale about a boy who is turned into an arrow so he can fly to the sun in search of his father. Flecha Al Sol is a children’s book that many Chicanx children read in school. The performance of this song was childish and emotional and outrageously happy. Everyone sang and bounced and cheered. I think this is the major appeal of Chicano Batman. Even though they are so culturally entrenched—they cannot hide the fact that they are four wicked smart, wicked cool Chicanos from L.A.

Maybe it is the vintage sounds, the multi-cultural influences from afro-Cuba, Brazil, and Peru. Chicano Batman, if it really needs a label, is best described as Chicano music. It is so distinct, and yet so relatable, it almost can’t be judged. There is a political statement in there somewhere, but I’m not prepared to comment

As for the openers, SadGirl was loud, wild, unhinged, crisp, and professional. Two tall, skinny young dudes and their guitars, on a tiny stage full of equipment and instruments, they walked on with a gentle swagger and turned the silent 9pm-crowded-room into a veritable Carnegie Hall—but punk. They closed their short set with what seems to be their most popular song in the mainstream, a track called ‘Breakfast is Over’, about the morning after a one-night stand. Each song had musical complexity and lyrical density. As someone who was not alive during the height of the punk era, I have never been a big fan, but SadGirl turned me.  It’s all catchy as hell, and fun to watch. It’s surf punk with a twist. It felt dark and happy at the same time, kind of like Chicano Batman.

79.5, who collaborated on ‘Freedom is Free’ with Chicano Batman—as background vocals for their signature soothing, cooing riffs—took up even more space on the little stage, with what looked like even more equipment. Two lead singers took front and center, backed up by another singer on a keyboard, a multi-talented flautist/sax player/percussionist/bassist/guitarist.  Where SadGirl was loud and unhinged, 79.5 was cool and collected. If Chicano Batman has a 70s soul vibe, 79.5 is that vibe. Lyrically, though, their songs were modern and familiar. The 79.5 singers left the stage after their set, but made several appearances with Chicano Batman. If you’re listening to the album, they are the oozing sweet sounds in the background on almost every track.

*Jamaica is a cold hibiscus drink commonly served in Mexico, Mexican restaurants, and your abuela’s house.

*Chicanismo is, in short, the umbrella term for the Chicanx cultural movement for civil rights/liberation; also known as the movement for la raza, which began in the late 1950s. Similarly, Chicanisma is the feminist movement for civil rights/liberation in Chicanx culture, and a more contemporary phenomenon.

Check out a bit of Chicano Batman right here:

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