Being in the front-row, middle of an over-crowded, sold-out Café Tacvba (AKA Cafeta) show is maximum intensity. Their gig at Stage 48 in Hell’s Kitchen, part of their current US tour commemorating 25 years as a band, proved to be both extreme and extraordinary.
The beloved Mexican quartet isn’t a metal or punk band, where one can expect to get bashed, bruised, whiplashed—or worse—from crowd surfers and mosh pits at their shows. However, Café Tacvba is venerated as a multi-genre band that can do justice to death metal, romantic ballads, electropop, and folkloric music like son jarocho, and their musical intensity was more than enough to fuel raging mosh pits throughout the night. Since the band’s inception in 1989, the seminal record that effortlessly captures their versatile prowess is Re (1994), an album whose 20-year anniversary the tour also celebrates. Re also marked the end of the rock en español era and set it on its genre-bending, alternative route.
When I arrived at Stage 48 at 7 pm, a half-mile line wrapped around the building, eager to see the iconic Satélite natives. Inside, the audience slowly started sardine packing the main floor and the surrounding balconies. While we waited for the band to start, the DJ held it down, playing Spanish rock classics. The large, cultish crowd shouted along to their favorite tunes, and started to get pumped.
Finally after two hours of waiting, Joselo Rangel, Meme del Real, and Quique Rangel arrived onstage in matching black suits, and frontman Rubén Albarrán clad in an all-red a traditional Mexican version of the guayabera shirt and jeans. He also sported two horn-like buns and a sleek braided ponytail, evoking a Latin diablo. The grinning singer opens up with the jarana-driven song “El Aparato.” Meanwhile, Joselo, Meme, and Quique’s shirts literally brightened up in flashy blue lights, and Rubén’s in a spiral-patterned red. Once they were all on stage announced that the entire album of Re will be performed track by track.
During the energetic ballad “La Ingrata,” Rubén wore a red apron and playfully carried a fake chicken around, as he does in the music video. By the third song, two mosh pits opened up like twin hurricanes, a few people violently surfed the crowd, and bodies completely pushed one another until every square foot of the venue was crammed with people. There was hardly any space to move, and at some points, to breathe as those in the front row were pressed against the photo pit rail by the crowd. Midway through the song, a crowd surfer whacked my head, and another one dove toward a security guard in the photo pit, dropping the burly man to the ground. The security guard lay in pain until he was carried away.
By the time Cafeta got to their heavy metal jam “El Borrego,” ferociously beating their instruments in a repetitive, distorted, and fast-tempo manner, and the crowd turned über-raucous. By the power of mosh, the hyper audience pushed and shoved in all directions, until the entire rail I was pressed against scooted forward about half a foot, causing a few cameramen and security guards to flee the photo pit. I feared for my life. Thankfully, the heartfelt ballad “Esa Noche” came next and the intensity dropped many notches. Thereafter, Rubén addressed the aggressive audience to be respectful of one another, and like faithful devotees, the crowd softened up a bit, except for a fanatic girl behind me who repetitively shrieked, “I fucking love you, Rubén!”
About every other song, Café Tacvba changed into new funky outfits that matched the song’s theme. That night, they were retro spacemen, muscle shirt-wearing miners, Illuminati-like shamans, and, of course, for the encore they came out in their everyday stunning iconic rocker costumes. In between songs, the band spoke against the recent violence and disappearance of 43 students in Ayotzinapa, Guerrero. The overzealous crowd was a bit too much for the size of the venue, so I gave up my front row spot before some of their most energetic punk songs played such as “La Pinta” or “El Tlatoani del Barrio.” For their encore the band played fan favorites like “Chilanga Banda,” “Éres,” “Olita del Altamar, “María” and others. Overall, these icons delivered a riveting set filled with nostalgia, showmanship and intensity. The night was definitely a roller coaster ride (a tad scary at one point), but indeed a remarkable experience worth repeating.
Check out our exclusive slideshow from their New York performance here!