A bill where every act is pure fire is as rare and coveted as a chupacabra sighting, yet Wednesday night’s show at the Doug Fir was exactly that. A beautiful blend of music, dance, and poetry, DJ Daniela Karina (a Mercury music freelancer!), Luz Elena Mendoza of Y La Bamba, Anis Mojgani, and Helado Negro all came together to gift Portland an evening of magic.
Though she was tucked away in the DJ booth behind a big glass window, DJ Daniela Karina slowly built the energy with dope digital cumbia and deep house. Just as attendees gained the confidence to move their hips, Luz Elena Mendoza graced the stage solo and opened with a rhythmic rendition of Y La Bamba's “Ostrich” and “Ojos del Sol.” Armed with her guitar and looping pedal, the songs became heavy and full of energy.
Speaking Spanish to the audience between songs, Mendoza introduced a new project that oozed power and strength. Fabi Reyna (founder of She Shreds) strummed surfy chords while Lisa Schonberg (Secret Drum Band, Dubais) shredded on drums and a quartet of singers dressed in white chanted and harmonized. At the back stood Jesse Bettis of New Move wearing black and holding it down on baritone guitar with drippy, drony sounds. Even amid a few minor technical glitches, Luz continued to radiate warmly, gripping the audience. The Olivia Darlings, a trio of metallic-clad dancing babes made up of Jimena Serrano, Viridiana Cervantez, and Minka Wallace, swam amongst the band and passed out little sticks with hand-drawn glittery eyeballs.
Next up was Portland-based poet Anis Mojgani. Though it’s uncommon to sandwich a poet between two musical acts, rejecting what's expected is exactly what Helado Negro does. Mojgani coaxed us to approach the stage, repeating, “Come close. Come close.” It was unclear whether he’d started to recite a verse, but his voice commanded attention as swiftly as his words do on paper. The Doug Fir, while intimate, is not a place known for its quiet atmosphere. Yet here the audience clung to his every breath, and for the first time in my eight years attending shows at the venue, silence filled the air.
As Anis closed out his set, he recited an ode to misfits and encouraged every one of us to shake off the dust. With this, the tears that had welled in my eyes slowly dripped down my cheek and the girl to my left openly wept. This level of engagement and respect is only made possible when every single soul is there because they want to be.
Finally, Helado Negro and his Tinsel Mammals took the stage. Dressed in soft leather loafers and his now-signature “Young, Latin, & Proud” T-shirt (which you can buy here), Roberto Carlos Lange swiftly hypnotized the audience with colorful, pulsating stage lights and the subtle gyration of his hips. There’s no doubt that I was a huge Helado Negro fan before, but this show reinforced the way some artistry can only be understood in the flesh. It also helped that I stood directly in front of a speaker and had no choice but to feel ever bass note with my entire body.
During “Young, Latin, & Proud,” all of us Latinx folks in front linked arms and swayed together in unison, singing each lyric with purpose. At times, the Tinsel Mammals would fade into the backdrop, but on softer songs, their movement echoed like rain drops or the sizzle of garlic in your mom’s kitchen.
Time stood still. Instead of feeling depleted from standing for hours, it was as though the performers’ energy had been transferred directly to us. Like his new album Private Energy, our respective wells were restored. This was a showcase of resilience by and for people who are unapologetically themselves. It was anything but ordinary, and even though it’s only March, I’m gonna go ahead and call it: best show of 2017.
See more of Christopher Garcia Valle's excellent photos of Helado Negro after the jump!