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Concert Review ~ The Hollywood Bowl Was Too Small for Los Tigres del Norte — And the Crowd Too Performative

11:40 PM PDT on September 17, 2018

Jorge Hernandez, in all his glory. All photos provided by Los Tigres del Norte

[dropcap size=big]S[/dropcap]ixteen years on, my cousin Plácido and I still talk about the best concert we ever saw: Los Tigres del Norte, House of Blues in West Hollywood, 2002. It was a private fundraiser for the conjunto norteño legends' foundation, created to help preserve corridos, so the show wasn't as packed as their usual stomping grounds during that era of the Anaheim Convention Center. But Los Tigres gave it their all over two hours to a crowd that consisted mostly of UCLA students, Chicano Studies professors, and music-industry types.

Los Tigres lead singer-accordionist Jorge Hernández and his bassist brother, the magnificently mexi-mulleted Hernán, slowly waltzed around each other on the small House of Blues stage as they unrolled hit after hit, a canon matched only by Ramón Ayala in the annals of norteño. Jorge's reedy, commanding voice and Hernán's metronomic bass propelled the night forward like a freight train.

The crowd sang along, yes, but they danced, even though it was a slightly more fresa crowd than the one that usually went Los Tigres concerts. Expressions of mexicanidad were limited to the occasional cinto piteado, but the focus was on the evening: attendees appreciated what a historic night they were privileged to witness.

Los Tigres transcended their regal setting, and the crowd propelled them to their heights. I kept thinking about that concert in 2002 as Los Tigres played at a different classy joint last Saturday: The Hollywood Bowl, the first-ever time the Bowl hosted a headlining norteño group.

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Jorge Hernandez, in all his glory. All photos courtesy of Los Tigres del Norte
Jorge Hernandez, in all his glory. All photos provided by Los Tigres del Norte

Much was made about that latter fact, with some even insinuating that the Bowl had too long discriminated against Mexican music. That was a silly claim — obviously those critics hadn't heard of the Mariachi USA Festival held at the Bowl for the past three decades, or the various rockero or ranchera acts who have held court there over the years. But all that ignores a crucial point: the Bowl is too small a venue for a genre like norteño, which demands that people dance and respect the swirl that bands create.

And in the hands of titans like Los Tigres, the Bowl became a pinche sandbox.

[dropcap size=big]T[/dropcap]he Hollywood Bowl was at near-capacity for “Norteño at the Bowl!” — a small miracle, considering Mexican Independence Day parties raged all over the Southland, Los Tucanes de Tijuana played a free show in front of Los Angeles City Hall, and Canelo vs. GGG 2 was streaming off every smartphone in El Lay.

I missed the opener, Los Cadetes de Linares, which was all good — none of the original members are alive, anyways. Besides, the proper venue for Cadetes classics like “Las Tres Tumbas,” “Pistoleros Famosos,” and “Dos Coronas a Mi Madre” is at a paisa bar with la plebada and a Carta Blanca in hand, not any concert venue.

My camaradas and I walked in halfway through the set of Los Cachorros de Juan Villarreal, fine ambassadors for the Czech-esque norteños of Tamaulipas with huapangos like “El Querreque” and heavy corridos like “Regalo Caro,” which Los Tigres recorded in their 2006 album Historias Que Contar. At one point, accordionist-singer Juan Villareal invited the audience to sing along to a song, but only the real Gs in SoCal know their stuff, so no one did.

It was a shame, because Villareal and his Cachorros brought it.

Already, though, the capacity crowd was over-performing as “Mexican.” The super-majority of the crowd wasn't the usual Tigres scene of working-class Latinos, but rather two distinct groups: middle-aged, middle-class Chicanos who looked like they belonged to the Schurr High School Class of 1991, and their younger, more-radical primos who brought their parents for a fine night out.

The former group was far more entertaining. Primas from La Puente danced by themselves while wearing those stupid wicker tejanas that gabachas in Santa Barbara always wear. Behind me, a big cholo named Randy held court.

“Hey, if we get kicked out, bro, let's just move over to the other side,” he told his squad. Then, turning to his woman, he turned on the charm. “We'll have a baby in the parking lot,” he said once Los Cachorros wrapped up their set. “We've got 20 minutes. Take a shit, take a piss, go smoke some weed.”

She didn't respond. “I'm Chuck Norris,” Randy said to no one as he ostensibly went off, to take a shit and a piss and smoke some weed.

Listos!
Listos!

20 minutes later, Los Tigres appeared. The Bowl's iconic shell shined with a tricolor tint. Orchestra members took to the stage and did a medley of Tigres classics. Randy wasn't impressed.

“It sounds like a fucking Disneyland song,” he complained.

But then, a canned tiger roar boomed across the Hollywood Bowl. A cheesy, pixelated montage hit the big screens. As if on cue, Randy and others let out gritos and AJUAS and “¡Viva México!” and the like. My chapín-guanaco friend wasn't impressed. “No te hagas, güey,” he cracked. “You're going to the Drake concert next month!”

[dropcap size=big]L[/dropcap]Los Tigres started with “La Banda del Carro Rojo,” which Randy proclaimed “the fucking best!!!” Jorge Hernandez anchored the familiar tale of narcos sold out by a soplón with his Hoehner trills; Hernán bubbled out bass notes as he smiled at the crowd, gleaming in his tiger-printed lounge-lizard sparkling jacket.

It was like every Tigres show ever — amazing, professional, fun. The hits poured down: “La Mesa del Rincón,” “Contrabanda y Traicíon,” “La Reina del Sur.” The crowd especially went nuts for the '80s slow jam, “Golpes en el Corazón,” swaying and singing along.

"THAT'S MY JAM, DOG!” screamed a guy who looked like he was a roadie for Chicano Batman to his friend. “HUG ME, MAN! HUG ME! I LOVE YOU!

Hernán looking down. Maybe he didn't want to look at all the damn cell phones?
Herán looking down. Maybe he didn't want to look at all the damn cell phones?

Los Tigres killed it. Their only real hiccup was that Hernán kept looking down at a telecaster to read lyrics for his songs. The unsung hero was Eduardo Hernández, who played the guitar, wielded the Tigres' signature high-pitches saxophone, strapped on an accordion, and even sang: the REAL MVP.

But there was no definitive moment that turned the concert into one for future corridistas a la their 2002 House of Blues masterpiece show. Los Tigres barreled over their backing orchestra, which added absolutely nothing save for some Sergio Mendes-esque playfulness on the cumbia “América.”

The orchestra didn't transform Los Tigres, the way another philharmonic has levitated Los Ángeles Azules into the sublime. Instead, they were such an afterthought that members packed up after their set while Los Tigres played on, as if they were gaffers or something.

Los Tigres offered no political statements other than their songs, from the soft-spoken ode to salvadoreño resiliency “Tres Veces Mojado” to the too on-the-nose “Somos Más Americanos” (to which Randy shouted, “Fuck yeah!”)

Oh, and when Jorge introduced “Jefes de Jefes,” he made a slight jab at machismo by quipping, “Se nos olvidaron las jefas de jefas!” But that was really it. For a night advertised as historic, it didn't hit those notes.

[dropcap size=big]I[/dropcap]t was a missed opportunity, through no fault of Los Tigres. Part of the problem was the spoilsport Hollywood Bowl security, which ignored the heavy smell of weed in the air and compas openly pouring out shots of Cazadores and bukanas but cracked down on anyone who dared dance in the aisles.

The Bowl should've pulled out Zach de la Rocha from his self-imposed exile so he could've again dueted with Los Tigres on "Somos Más Americanos." Or gotten some of the rock en español titans who participated in the vastly underrated 2001 cover album El Más Grande Homenaje a Los Tigres del Norte.

They didn't have enough time to play. For their encore, Los Tigres played abbreviated versions of “Rosita Olvirez,” “La Camioneta Gris,” and “Pacas de a Kilo” as an encore which the crowd loved, but it wasn't enough (would've been better as a popurri, honestly). The pinche concert ended at 10:45, probably a record for the earliest end to a Tigres concert, which famously go on for hours.

What ultimately hindered Los Tigres was the crowd. There were far more people adding to their Instagram stories than trying to dance. Too few people in the front-row seats passed off papelitos of requests and dedications to Jorge, the way a legit Tigres crowd would.

When the group jumped into “La Jaula de Oro,” the heartbreaking 1984 lament in which a Mexican immigrant becomes disillusioned with the American Dream, the audience laughed at the famous English-language part, where the pocho son responds in English that he doesn't want to return to Mexico.

The crowd not only missed the pathos in the line, but also the irony: that scornful son would now be their age, and probably in the Hollywood Bowl, hooting and hollering about how awesome it was to rock out to the Tigers of the North, as the older members in the crowd just sat and stared ahead.

ALSO BY THE AUTHOR:

How to Teach Students Spanish Using Tacos and Pupusas

When the Jewish Bakers of Boyle Heights Were Radical Socialists Instead of Trump Supporters

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