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Sunday, December 9 , 2018, 7:22 pm | Fair 56º

 
 
 
 

Review: Dia de los Muertos Tour a Triple Lucky Break for Barbareños

Performers at UCSB's Campbell Hall included Mexrissey, Mariachi Flor de Toloache and La Santa Cecelia

Mexrissey, a seven-piece Morrissey tribute band ran at full tilt for their Dia de los Muertos performance in Santa Barbara.
Mexrissey, a seven-piece Morrissey tribute band ran at full tilt for their Dia de los Muertos performance in Santa Barbara. (Contributed photo)

As the band leader of Mexrissey pointed out early in their set in the Dia de los Muertos tour presented by UCSB Arts & Lectures at Campbell Hall as we welcomed the weekend, “It’s Friday night. If you don’t get up and dance now, you’re gonna feel like it was Sunday all weekend.”

Back up, though, to show openers Mariachi Flor de Toloache.

From the moment New York City’s all-female Mariachi took the stage and asked “Are you ready for a mariachi experience?” all of us in sold-out and packed-to-the-rafters Campbell Hall were rapt. 

Traditional mariachi instrumentation of violin, guitar, guitarron and trumpet — which found its ideal acoustic environment in UCSB’s brass-friendly giant cupcake of a theater — blended with sweet, rich vocal harmonies. 

The four women played traditional mariachi songs, and works by beloved Mexican composers both living and now-in-the-beyond, which had half the audience singing along out loud. 

Then came original songs they referenced from an NPR Tiny Desk concert, and an ode to the complexity of love in our time that morphed into a medley that included the Supremes’ “Keep Me Hanging On” and a Led Zeppelin riff.

There was whistling, a beat boxing guest artist, and a mind-blowing, never-ending violin solo that constituted a world tour of violin styles and melodies, ranging from classical concerti to bluegrass fiddle that accelerated to speeds that had us holding our breath. 

Mariachi Flor de Toloache, New York City’s all-female Mariachi, blended instrumentation with sweet, rich vocal harmonies. Click to view larger
Mariachi Flor de Toloache, New York City’s all-female Mariachi, blended instrumentation with sweet, rich vocal harmonies. (Contributed photo)

Though each member of the quartet displayed musical virtuosity both vocally and as instrumentalists, I love how as an ensemble they embody genuine musical power, not trying to prove anything, just doing whatever and all of what it is they love to do. 

That’s the acoustic side of the performance.

The visuals were just as dramatic and vibrant. With flowers piled high across their heads, half made up as las calaveras catrinas, classic European style mariachi pants with buckles up the sides, and a trumpet that looked like a bent paper clip a la Dizzy Gillespie, there was plenty for the eyes to celebrate, too. 

The band is named for what the program notes claim is “ the legendary toloache flower still being used in Mexico as a love potion.”

I can testify, it works like a charm. I’m in love.

The centerpiece of the night was Mexrissey, a seven-piece Morrissey tribute band that ran at full tilt for the entire set.

Passing the mic for vocals among several male and the one female band member, they played songs, in Spanish and English, from as far back as The Smiths’ The Queen to works across Morrissey’s solo career. 

They were loud, brash, fast, tight and effusively in love with the music, the audience, performing, and the week-and-a-half-long tour that wrapped with the Santa Barbara concert.

The musicians were costumed in matching black Mexrissey t-shirts and black jeans, but behind them ran continuous colorful videos steeped in Chicano poster and mural art of the 1960s and ’70s, iconic paintings by Diego Rivera, and even the silliest Monty Python-esque paper-cutout stop-motion animation. 

Like the music, the videos were Morrissey-centric: Moving vector art of just his signature hairstyles; Rivera’s girl with calla lilies from which burst Morrissey in a bouquet of gladiolus; Morrissey transformed with a series of classic Frida Kahlo hairstyles, attire and eyebrows; Morrissey’s head hinging open with Emiliano Zapata, tabby cats, horses, flowers and legions of Mexican artists, musicians and revolutionaries springing forth; even Morrissey swinging at a Trump piñata.

The real Morrissey performed Sunday night at Vina Robles Amphitheater in Paso Robles, and is on deck for two shows at the Hollywood Bowl this coming weekend, Nov. 10 and 11, for which the storied venue will be “going vegetarian.”

The evening closed with Grammy-winning La Santa Cecelia, the kind of band that has all of us bragging about how many times we’ve seen them live and the first time we saw them, whether at our local favorite family-run Del Pueblo Café, on an abandoned military runway in Irvine, or at Live Oak Music Festival. 

And we wax dreamy about lead singer “La Marisoul” Hernandez: her sandy deep vocals; her love for her hometown L.A., her Mexican cultural heritage and her bandmates; and how she makes music to unite, celebrate and to sanctify all of us. Oh, and her signature hand-painted footwear.

The band entered the stage to a roar of gratitude and excitement, and lived up to their headliner status in the late (for sleepy Santa Barbara) last set.

They played songs spanning their career from as early as 2011, incorporating Angeleno rock, tango ballads, cumbia dance tunes, Norteño accordion, jaw-dropping electric guitar, and warm percussion from bongos and cajon to full drum kit.

And Marisol sang, her deep, warm alto communicating love and passion, sorrow and delight, fully supported by the band’s namesake, the patron saint of musicians, Santa Cecelia.

The arc of the concert was an apt way to celebrate Dia de los Muertos, honoring our loved ones no longer with us in human form, and dancing, singing, laughing, and rejoicing in life together.

Local arts critic Judith Smith-Meyer is a round-the-clock appreciator of the creative act. Contact her at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

Grammy-winning La Santa Cecelia played songs spanning their career, incorporating Angeleno rock, tango ballads, cumbia dance tunes, Norteño accordion, jaw-dropping electric guitar, and warm percussion from bongos and cajon to full drum kit. Click to view larger
Grammy-winning La Santa Cecelia played songs spanning their career, incorporating Angeleno rock, tango ballads, cumbia dance tunes, Norteño accordion, jaw-dropping electric guitar, and warm percussion from bongos and cajon to full drum kit. (Contributed photo)

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