Balthvs 2024
Photo: Press Junkie PR

Balthvs Go for a Groovy Space Ride in Berkeley

Balthvs’ wide-ranging vibe includes influences from psychedelia, indie rock, dub reggae, surf rock, cumbia, Middle Eastern music, and more.

It’s a cold, rainy Wednesday night in Berkeley on 27th March, as the month seems to be going both in and out like a lion in the Bay Area. But there’s a buzz band that’s ready to warm things up at the Cornerstone in the form of the Colombian psychedelic funk trio known as Balthvs (pronounced bôl + thŭs). The band’s wide-ranging vibe includes influences from psychedelia, indie rock, dub reggae, surf rock, cumbia, Middle Eastern music, and more. 

Balthvs came to California after having recently played the prestigious SXSW festival in Austin, Texas, making it a great time to catch them as they continue to connect with America. As an eclectic and groovy trio featuring an exotic-looking female bassist, comparisons to Khruangbin are all but inevitable. Yet, while they share some common sonic ground, Balthvs appear to have even more devotion to psychedelic exploration. “Colombia is very psychedelic; there’s plenty of availability and a lot of traditional medicine involving entheogens and plant medicine around,” guitarist Balthazar Aguirre notes in a recent press release.

“We are only left with the power of imagination and will to transmute that which lies inside, burdensome thoughts, into alchemical reality. To transmute the psychedelic experience into the Cosmic, in the realm of the Manifest. Our pretensions are only to alleviate the daily toll the mind, the body, and spirit take amidst our modern, uncertain world, if only a little bit. Music is medicine, Music is an Escape,” continues Aguirre on Balthvs’ website, alluding to the trio’s spiritual mission of sonic deliverance. 

Balthvs’ sound thereby overlaps into the spiritual jazz realm. Perhaps this explains how the band became affiliated with Jazz Is Dead, a Los Angeles-based entity that is becoming known for curating fresh sounds in the jazz and funk realms and which is presenting Balthvs’ West Coast tour. Thus, it’s nearly another full house here at the Cornerstone, as it was when Jazz Is Dead presented a sold-out show from the Blue Note Quintet here in February.

When the lights go down around 9:00 pm, Pink Floyd plays on the PA for ten minutes. A psychedelic tone is conjured before the band hits the stage with an upbeat number that seems to mix atmospheric spaghetti Western blues with surf rock riffage. Aguirre is wearing a cowboy hat as he riffs out, while bassist Johanna Mercuriana looks like she could easily moonlight as a fashion model. She rocks a solid low end though, powering an inviting groove with drummer Santiago Lizcano.

Green laser beams enhance the psychedelia on “Ashes” from Balthvs’ third and latest album, 2023’s Third Vibration. There’s a heady atmospheric vibe with Aguirre spinning some bluesy riffs over a dub groove and singing, “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.” Then there’s another line where he sings, “If you want something done right, you’ve gotta do it yourself.” The song generates a sonic journey of sorts, with Balthvs as very hip tour guides. Aguirre invokes the “do it yourself” sentiment to the audience again after the song as well, and he seems like he’s living the credo admirably.

“You know this is our first time in California, so we’re gonna chill a bit… feel like getting lost,” Aguirre says, winning a cheer for the band’s triumphant visit to the Golden State. “Feel like getting lost” turns out to be a lyric from the next song, “Vapor Waves”, from the band’s 2022 album Cause & Effect. Aguirre and Mercuriana sing this one together, conjuring a sultry sound.

“This next tune, we’re like cat people. We all have cats… If you have a cat, this song is for you,” Aguirre says. Balthvs have a 2023 single titled “Anouk”, which features a charming cat on the track’s artwork. The instrumental tune is a slinky jam, which seems like it could be about a cat exploring the great outdoors in a leisurely fashion, as cats are known to do.

“Ojos Verdes” picks up the tempo with a more danceable Latin-esque groove. Throughout the set, the trio display strong chemistry as they lead the audience through a series of groovy sonic landscapes. Mercuriana seems to tease a Santana jam at one point, as Balthvs rock deeper and the Cornerstone is transported to a higher vibration.

“We gotta do a cumbia,” explains Aguirre toward the end of the set, mirroring a sentiment from Los Lobos shows that invariably feature Cesar Rojas introducing a cumbia jam. Johanna Mercuriana sings a sexier cumbia, though, with the Colombian version making it feel like slushy cocktails should be passed around. But, at least the Cornerstone continues to feature the best local beer menu among Bay Area concert venues, with a wide array of offerings brewed across California.

“Cosmic Boogie” from Third Vibration takes the set to another dimension with an infectious groove and uplifting guitar riffage as Balthvs conjure a cosmic party vibe that makes the Cornerstone feel like the place to be. Drummer Santiago Lizcano kicks off the groovy “Eclipse Solar” with a hot beat before Mercuriana and Aguirre drop in with melodies that keep the good vibes flowing. A spacey psychedelic jam ensues, making it feel like Balthvs is taking the audience on a ride to a more harmonious world with this title track from their 2021 EP. It’s one of the most extended tracks in the repertoire, making for a great jam vehicle here.

When the lights come up after the 75-minute set, it seems like that might be it. But most of the audience stays in place cheering for more, and they are soon rewarded as Balthvs return for an encore sequence. The first tune has a heavy blues vibe and a massive bass line to groove on. 

A special treat follows when Aguirre says something about wanting to play a tribute for the Bay Area, the Grateful Dead’s “Bird Song”. It’s one of the Dead’s jazziest songs, and Balthvs take it for an excellent spin, with Aguirre’s spacey guitar leading the band to take flight on the jam. 

Then it’s back to Earth with a disco funk jam that lights up the room on “Heat Keeps Risin'” from Balthvs’ 2020 debut Macrocosm. “Body and soul gotta tune with the universe,” Mercuriana sings as the band help the audience tune up and tune into the cosmos with this hot jam. It makes for a climactic finish to the evening as Balthvs conquers the People’s Republic of Berkeley in groovy style.

Balthvs 2024
Photo: Press Junkie PR