“Es mejor la fantasía…” (the fantasy is better) Julieta Venegas belted to open her Club Nokia show on May 19th. This may be true of the song’s glorification of “amores platonicos,” but not a concert by Venegas. The Mexican pop songstress brought such joy, spirit and energy to her live performance that it exceeded any fantasy one could have had of seeing her in person.
The songs from her new album, “Otra Cosa,” interspersed with past hits and audience favorites, sparkled with the joie de vivre that has characterized much of Venegas’ recent work. Some have accused her of “going mainstream” and abandoning her roots as a singer and songwriter of dark, alternative melodies. But Venegas’ performance revealed an honesty and genuineness that mainstream often lacks. She laughed, smiled, danced and sang not only to entertain, but to have fun and enjoy life, music and good company. Seven musicians accompanied Venegas. They covered the usual guitar, electric bass, drums, percussion and keyboards but also the less-typical trumpet, clarinet, flute and two accordions. Singer Ceci Bastida, a fellow Tijuana native and band mate from one of Venegas’ first bands, Tijuana No!, joined for a couple of songs as well.
The arrangements reflected the style of Venegas’ MTV Unplugged album, rich with sound, texture and variety. Venegas played several songs on keyboards – she has quick fingers and is a talented pianist – but mostly stayed away from guitar and accordion, her signature instrument. Perhaps accordions are awkward to handle for expecting mothers – Vegeas is nearly 6 months pregnant. Her ruffly short black dress trimmed with lace and purple flowers revealed only the slightest bulge. Dark blue shiny tights highlighted Venegas’ petite and energetic legs that were hardly still for a moment as she pranced around the stage. A tightly slicked back ponytail on the top of her head completed Venegas’ look as cute and unique. (And what a relief to not have to contend with wild curls or messy bangs in order to get a glimpse of the singer’s face!)
Venegas’ style and aesthetic sensibility is one reason why she’s so likable. The woman is adorable in a way that’s not sickly sweet. And she’s more interested in her creative vision than following trends or baring her skin. The audience’s enthusiasm toward seeing her was palpable. Many had showed up at 7 for a performance that didn’t begin until 9:15. For two hours, including a 45 minute set by up-and-coming Mexican indie singer Ximena Sarinana, the anticipation and excitement had grown. When Venegas finally took the stage, audience members jostled to get closer and bickered over who had been there first. But when the music began, there was only singing, fulfilling every audience member’s fantasy of belting out lyrics alongside Julieta Venegas. And when one cried, “Te amo, Julieta!” it was quickly followed by, “No, yo te amo, Julieta!” It is I who loves you! With luck, Venegas will return to L.A. soon, maybe with baby in tow. That is going to be one lucky kid.