"We are in the motherland!"
Camilo Lara, founder of the electronica outfit Mexican Institute of Sound and now the leader of the Mexican supergroup Mexrrissey, yelled from the stage of downtown Los Angeles' Regent Theater. "We came from Mexico — but it seems like you all came from Mexico too!"
The crowd erupted as the best-loved songs of Morrissey were reimagined Monday night with Spanish lyrics and Latin beats by Mexrrissey: "Girlfriend in a Coma" rendered as a cha cha cha. "The More You Ignore Me the Closer I Get" with a mariachi vibe. "Everyday Is Like Sunday" with a blaring Mexican trumpet.
Mexrrissey, a rotating lineup of Mexican musicians from both sides of the border, came together for a scrappy three-week project that has been picking up steam as the band has toured England and the United States.
On a six-date tour through Europe, Mexrrissey played sold-out shows at the Barbican Theatre in London and at Bridgewater Hall in Manchester, home of the moody New Wave crooner. On Sunday, the band gigged in front of a bouncing audience at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York before landing in L.A. on Monday for its final show.
"We wanted to end the European tour in Manchester and the the U.S. tour in Los Angeles," explained Lara, as he took a smoke break during the band's sound check at the Regent. "These are the meccas of Morrissey."
In Los Angeles, where the Mexican love for Moz, as Morrissey is known, is unabated, the crowd welcomed Mexrrissey with screaming, jumping, grooving and group hugging (even if the sound at the concrete-lined Regent isn't the best). And, of course, there was plenty of singing, in English and Spanish.
Here's the blow-by-blow:
A mix of hipsters, Chipsters (Chicano hipsters), crunchies, the curious, old '80s heads and plenty of '50s style pompadours. The band got on stage late (at 9:50 p.m.), during which time people got lubed up on tallboys and tequila and groped at the concert merchandise: T-shirts that read "Taco Is Murder" (after the Smiths' legendary 1985 album, "Meat Is Murder"). I fight my way through a group of Mexican Moz fans and manage to lay my hands on a "Girlfriend in a Conga (Es Muy Serio)" tees. Guess what I'm wearing right now.
The show begins
The crowd is sardined into the Regent's floor, yelling, shouting and whistling as Mexrrissey takes the stage and kicks the show off with "El Primero del Gang," a rendition of Morrissey's 2004 hit "First of the Gang to Die" (which interestingly, is about Los Angeles gang culture). The crowd sings along in English as singer-songwriter Ceci Bastida sings in Spanish. The song is played as straight pop but infused with a Latin touch by Sergio Mendoza's skilled strumming on the vihuela. We are cooking.
'Girlfriend in a Coma'
Three songs in and we're on the Smiths' legendary 1987 single, about the ambivalence a man feels toward his nearly dead girlfriend. (It's serious.) The band sings the song in Spanglish: "Mi novia está en coma / I know I know / Es muy serio." There is lots of cowbell, a prolonged cha cha cha riff and animated images of Moz on the screen framed by gladiolas (his favorite flower). Magical realism in the span of three minutes.
'The More You Ignore Me, the Closer I Get'
Mexrrissey isn't simply a cover band. It seamlessly mixes styles — rock, pop, danzón and more — in ways that reveal a dexterous musicality. For Morrissey's 1994 single about obsession, the band takes on a mariachi vibe (all of them are, after all, wearing charro pants) and then guitarist and singer Jay de la Cueva (of the bands Moderatto and Titan) throws in a few verses of Juan Gabriel's "Querida" (Dearest) for good measure. Screaming ensues.
FOR THE RECORD
May 12, 3:58 p.m.: An earlier version of this article said that Mexrrissey's cover of "The More You Ignore Me, the Closer I Get" included verses from Juan Gabriel's "Ven a Mi Soledad." The song features verses from Gabriel's "Querida."
The whole thing ends with the closing lick from the Beatles' "Something in the Way She Moves." Nice touch.
'Everyday Is Like Sunday'
"Cada Día es Domingo" is how Mexrrissey translated this single from Morrissey's debut solo album, released in the late 1980s. By the time the chorus comes around a second time, the audience has the Spanish lyrics figured out and sings along. This happens on many of the songs: at first, the audience is unsure of what the lyrics might be (Mexrrissey doesn't have a recorded album for reference), but halfway through almost everyone is on board and singing along.
For this legendary song, Morrissey's paean to Mexico, the band strips the sound down to a duet: Mendoza, of Orkesta Mendoza and Calexico, and De La Cueva, set to acoustic guitar and bit of trumpet. The audience group hugs.
It's the second-to-last song of the show and Lara has got the concertgoers practically on their knees (literally, he's making everyone crouch down on the floor), whispering the lyrics to "Panic," the Smiths' 1986 single. Mexrrissey has redone the song as a rock anthem with norteño beats and blended in riffs from the Isley Brothers anthem "Shout." Eventually, Lara turns up the volume. The band jumps up and down to the beat. The crowd jumps up and down to the beat. I jump up and down to the beat, beer under one arm, notepad under the other. We are all one beating, tequila-soaked organism.
'Bigmouth Strikes Again'
For the final song of the night, translated as "El Boca," the band goes straight New Wave. On the giant screen at the rear of the stage, an animated graphic shows Morrissey's head splitting open and Mexican musicians pouring out of his skull. Earlier in the evening, there had been slide shows that paired images of Manchester streets with Mexican pyramids. My favorite, however, was the one that showed Morrissey as Frida Kahlo. Now there's something I'd like to see on a T-shirt.
The crowd chants "otra, otra" ("another, another") and the band once again takes the stage, with "Suedehead," followed by a straight-forward rendition of "How Soon Is Now" (dubbed "El Hijo Soy"), full of reverberating guitars. Trumpets blare. The crowd selfies. A beer can flies through the air.
And then Mexrrissey is gone.