Blazers – Gallista Gallery (San Antonio, TX)
“You don’t have to stand in the doorway — there’s no earthquake,” quipped Blazers guitarist Manuel Gonzalez to two wallflowers who had crammed themselves in a jamb. Not an earthquake, but certainly a post-flood heat wave, as the warehouse doors were thrown open and the air-conditioning was on the blink at the homey Gallista Gallery, where the Blazers performed into the wee hours, flanked by the works of the band’s arty amigos: L.A. David’s psychedelic works of burros and UFOs, and Joe Lopez’s paintings of a rooster, the Virgen de Guadalupe, and a Latino market, all rendered in warm earth tones.
The band’s Spanish material, much of it taken from their last record, Puro Blazers, set the tone for first half of the show. The quartet crooned ballads about lunas and noches azules as a gentle button accordion and bajo sexto massaged the 400-plus crowd; then there were the frantic dance numbers, including “Cumbia del Sol” from their second release, East Side Soul.
The Blazers hail from East Los Angeles, but they perform in San Antonio so often that they are considered honorary citizens. They feel at home here: Before a show at Casbeers a week prior, Gonzalez mingled with the crowd as if they were sitting in his living room, shaking everyone’s hand and chatting. “This area has gotta a lot of soul,” he noted, extending a firm hand that within the hour would be throwing down dirty electric licks on a black Fender and then plucking pristine arpeggios on a bajo sexto.
At Gallista, the power kept going out as the Blazers’ energy sucked the juice out of the fuses. Nonetheless, when the room went black and nothing but the thump, thump of the snare guided the songs, the audience filled in the rest.
The Blazers share a kinship with Los Lobos: Cesar Rosas produced their first two records for Rounder, Short Fuse and East Side Soul. (After releasing Just For You and Puro Blazers, the band recently left Rounder for Little Dog, a label owned by their recent producer Pete Anderson; their fifth album is due out by the end of the year.)
Consequently, perhaps, the Blazers have inherited an uneasy comparison. “They’re like Los Lobos” is shorthand for the quartet’s alchemy of Norteno, soul, rock ‘n’ roll, cumbia, and groove, but their sound is rougher than their lupine counterparts. Even at their most demure — when the accordion cries, drumsticks caress the snarehead, nylon strings purr across the F-hole, and pure, three-part harmonies sing of amor or vida — the Blazers deliver a grittiness in their music.
As the night became morning, the band broke into its rock and soul numbers: “I’m Gonna Be Somebody” featured a complex, galloping bass line beneath Jesse Cuevas’ pounding and squeezing of the accordion; he occasionally whipped across the buttons in a furious glissando.
After breathless versions of “Yeah Yeah Yeah”, “Ooh-Poo-Pah-Poo” and “Just For You”, a sweaty man heading to the bar commented to his friend: “Life is sweet in San Antonio.” After the floods, a sultry Texas night, and the Blazers, how sweet it is indeed.