Chicano Batman to make Aspen debut at Belly Up
If You Go …
Who: Chicano Batman
Where: Belly Up Aspen
When: Saturday, Sept. 16, 9:30 p.m.
How much: $18-$40
Tickets: Belly Up box office; http://www.bellyupaspen.com
Taking the stage in matching polyester tuxedos and ruffled shirts, playing an inventive mix of vintage soul and funk and psychedelic rock tinged with Brazilian tropicalia, Chicano Batman can’t be accused of chasing trends.
The one-of-a-kind Los Angeles quartet makes its Aspen debut Saturday at Belly Up, performing with a crew of backup singers in what promises to be a high point of the autumn live music season in the mountains.
“We always want to play something that we haven’t heard before and we want to fit in where there’s no place to fit in,” bassist Eduardo Arenas said recently in a phone interview from Los Angeles. “There’s nothing in our way, as far as anybody sounding like us right now.”
Rolling Stone described them as “the hippest prom band ever” and named their 2017 Coachella set a high water mark of the summer’s buzziest music festival.
For years, Chicano Batman was a sort of secret band that Los Angeles kept to itself. Founded in 2008, the band filled L.A. clubs with fans that knew every word and bass groove of their songs.
Chicano Batman has only recently begun to draw national attention, with performances at top-tier music festivals, an ecstatic critical reception for their new album, “Freedom is Free,” their first with ATO Records, and a standout NPR Tiny Desk Concert in April.
“It’s taken a long time to get any kind of radio play or label support, because we’ve been a quirky soul-funk-rock-dance band,” Arenas said. “Genres are made to categorize people and we’re not made to be categorize-able.”
Arenas, whose greasy funk basslines drive many of Chicano Batman’s danceable originals, grew up on James Brown, Earth, Wind & Fire and Mexican pop music. The way the band threads a needle through diverse, far-flung sounds, he said, is a result of the eclectic interests of his bandmates: singer Bardo Martinez, guitarist Carlos Arevalo and drummer Gabriel Villa.
“Bardo has always been pushing for the soul aesthetic, but there’s four people in the band and that’s what makes it great,” he said. “Carlos comes in with crazy guitar solos and ideas like that, pushing for more of an edge. Gabriel is a dance and rhythm machine on the drums.”
“Freedom is Free,” the band’s third full-length album, has helped make inroads to some new touring territory beyond California and big city stops.
“It’s exciting and motivating when we play new cities like Des Moines, Iowa or St. Paul, Minnesota or Rehoboth Beach, Delaware and you’re seeing a new crew of people,” Arenas said. “We could be having a bad day, we could be drained and we drove 10 hours, but when that context is in place we forget about all that.”
The new record also showcases the most socially conscious work from Chicano Batman thus far. Along with funky crowdpleasers like “Friendship (Is a Small Boat In A Storm)” and the breezy instrumental track “Area C,” it incudes “The Taker Story,” a fierce soul song about environmental injustice and “La Jura,” a Spanish language ballad about police brutality.
“That’s resonating with a lot of big cities all over the country, in light of what’s been happening before and after Trump,” Arenas said.
In the age of the DACA repeal and Trump’s dream wall on the Mexican border, a band of Angelinos with roots in Central and South America is bound to address the politics of the day. But, Arenas said, Chicano Batman isn’t going to turn into a protest band.
“The band has put out a couple songs that seem political, but I don’t think that in any sense we have the moral responsibility or obligation to keep pushing politics,” Arenas said. “We do what we do. And sometimes we feel the need to face certain things that we’ve been feeling for a long time.”
The band’s positive message and the freewheeling fun of its live shows, Arenas argued, is the strongest statement it can make.
“I think at the end of the day when you speak about love, that’s more political than anything else you can possibly do,” he said. “And I think what we really need is more compassion and empathy. If the band can provide a space to do that, then I think that’s a better example than to be a political force that’s angry.”
As for what’s next for Chicano Batman, Arenas said the band is planning to record a new album in the next six months and hoping to go on its first world tour soon.
“The world hasn’t seen Chicano Batman yet,” he said. “We want to take it to the world.”
Back in 2013, while working on a proposed box set of archival recordings, singer-songwriter Melissa Etheridge came across a group of songs that had been recorded in the late 1980s but never released.
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