Norteño music is sufficient unto itself.
As a gringo who loves talking about this music, I often find myself comparing norteño to other U.S. genres — especially our chart pop, with which it shares predilections for dancing, drinking, and lovey dovey ballads. Other writers have pointed out the music’s similarites to country (hats, horses, drinking, instrumentation) or rap (attitude, marginalized artists, drinking, trapping-as-metaphor), but all such comparisons ultimately fall short, because norteño doesn’t need ’em. At Chicago’s Aragon Ballroom last Saturday, this self-sufficiency once again became clear. A packed house of four or five thousand people sang along with entire songs by Ulices Chaidez y Sus Plebes, Regulo Caro, Lenin Ramirez, and (I assume) the headliner Gerardo Ortiz, each of whom presented a unique modern take on an unapologetically Mexican tradition.
(About that last parenthetical… before we get too far I should admit that I left before Ortiz took the stage. Reader, you have to understand some things. It was after midnight, I work early Sunday mornings, I live more than an hour outside the city, the snow had started falling, and I am 40. Also know that you cannot shame me more than I have shamed myself.)
The crowd, ninety percent of whom were younger than me and had better hair, screamed when each act shouted out their families’ states of origin: “¡Arriba Jalisco! ¡Arriba Zacatecas!” Fans pulled out their cell phones to record the hits, devoting gigabytes of cloud storage to Chaidez’s “Te Regalo” and Caro’s “En Estos Dias.” I was grateful not to be the worst dressed person there. With my black Nikes (the nicest article of clothing I own, now salt stained and sticky), leather jacket, paisley shirt, and dark jeans, I was somewhere in the middle of the pack: well below the stylish vaqueros and vaqueras in their spotless hats and glistening belts, but not super conspicuous.
Billed as a “Baile de Valentine’s Day,” the bands and between-set DJs leaned heavily on dance tunes and love songs, but maybe they always do. The Aragon has limited VIP seating — the VIPs stood impassively above the rest of us, resembling the stony-faced onlookers at the Eyes Wide Shut orgy — so most of the crowd simply stood and danced on the main floor. The place filled up during an opening set by a tight accordion quintet whose name neither I nor my neighbors caught. When they finished playing and I turned around, thousands of people had materialized to fill the hall, and it was clear that any attempt to exit would require detailed planning. As the crowd packed in tighter and tighter, brief shoving matches became more frequent and the elbows of oblivious dancing couples became more annoying. (I was also grateful not to be the only dorky dude fixed to one spot, bobbing his head.) Like a shark through the sea of people strode an intrepid five-foot-tall vendedora, holding bouquets of light-up roses above her head. I didn’t see anyone buy them, but she kept trying.
Ulices Chaidez didn’t help her cause by tossing real roses from the stage. The Blog has been in the tank for Chaidez since his first single, and while I was disappointed with the high ballad quotient of his 2017 album El Elegido (on DEL Records — maybe with the exception of the opening grupo, all these guys are on DEL), in concert he was spectacular.
Continue reading “En Vivo Chicago: Ulices Chaidez, Regulo Caro, Lenin Ramirez”