In an ironic turn of events, the day that Mexican super-group Los Tigres del Norte decided to play a rare, intimate show in Los Angeles, half of the audience didn't show up.
Then again, Los Tigres' corrido ballads were always meant to be performed in arenas overflowing with hysterical fans, most of whom might somehow feel uncomfortable at a venue as formal as UCLA's Royce Hall. And the prohibitive ticket prices (which peaked at $120 and averaged $60 for an OK seat) might have kept the real fans away. (The concert was in conjunction with "Corridos Sin Fronteras," an exhibition at UCLA's Fowler Museum.) About a quarter of the half-filled hall was made up of UCLA students who appeared slightly baffled (but mightily amused) by Los Tigres' antics. It was a show as spirited as it was surreal--a best-selling band unable to fill a theater that is undersized by its standards.
Rather than change their act and adapt it to the small-scale atmosphere, Los Tigres brought their arena bombast with them, with unintentionally hilarious results.
Their customary introduction, for instance, with a prerecorded voice screaming "Los Tigres" time after time, as the sound of thunder is matched by rhythmic explosions of colorful lights, seemed oddly out of place, as if a descent of Olympian gods was taking place in a high school library.
The prerecorded cheering and applause didn't help, either, as the puzzled audience clapped politely while looking for the source of the clattering. Once the music started, the volume was so deafeningly loud that it turned the beautiful songs into some kind of medieval torture.
A pity, because Los Tigres have what it takes to entertain an audience, no matter its size. Lead singer and accordionist Jorge Hernandez's affable personality filled the air with warmth, as the band performed a series of superb new hits, from "Jefe de Jefes" to "El Mojado Acaudalado," and bouncy old favorites such as "Rosario de Olivo" and "America."
Keeping with their democratic, convivial philosophy, Los Tigres obliged every request that was handed to them on scribbled pieces of paper. It was a touching gesture for a superstar group whose genuine humility underscores a devotion for the authentic.
Though Thursday's performance was the spiritual high point of UCLA's festival devoted entirely to the genre, other corrido-related events will continue through the summer.
Among them is the exhibition at the Fowler Museum. "It's a very interactive experience because it's all about the sound," says exhibition curator Isabel Castro-Melendez. "We are playing to the emotions and memories of the visitor," she continues, explaining why this musical genre is still so popular among Mexicans and Chicanos. "Corridos are happening right now because they withstood the test of time. These songs had very humble beginnings, in family gatherings, local cantinas and country fiestas."
Melendez calls the corrido an underappreciated genre. "Corridos are very much alive and still part of our culture," she says. "They haven't received the recognition they deserve, and they're intergenerational: Grandparents grew up with them, and kids are still singing them."
The festival also includes screenings of films that are somehow related to corridos. Visiting curator Guillermo E. Hernandez is especially excited about two: 1978's "Benjamin Argumedo" (July 10) and 1961's "Los Hermanos del Hierro" (Aug. 7).
"To me, 'Benjamin' is the best filmic interpretation of a defeated revolutionary hero, reflecting the relationship of these historic events with the corrido," Hernandez says. " 'Los Hermanos' is a compelling view into the life of a family and its tragic descent into violence." The film series continues through the summer at the L.A. Public Library's Mark Taper Auditorium.
Other festival events include a June 28 concert by the venerable Lalo Guerrero, known as the father of Chicano music, and an exhibition walk-through and guitar-making demonstration on July 26.