PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.

Reviews

Grupo Fantasma

Sean Padilla

With a blockbuster live show, a stunning new album, and the endorsement of one of this era's greatest musicians, Grupo Fantasma are closer than ever to becoming a household name.

Grupo Fantasma

Grupo Fantasma

City: Austin, TX
Venue: The Mohawk
Date: 2008-05-29

Grupo Fantasma cemented its reputation as Austin's best live band long ago. I've attended more than 20 of their marathon shows over the last five years, and their funk-infused cumbia rhythms have never failed to make people dance through every single minute. Unfortunately, it seemed for a while that Grupo had reached a glass ceiling commercially, if not artistically. Their 2004 album Movimiento Popular received (and deserved) excellent reviews, but occasional shows outside of Austin still found the band outnumbering the audience. Grupo also suffered from being doubly labeled as a "party band" and as "world music." Snobs look down on the former label, though it can be applied to any band you can dance to; xenophobes avoid the latter, though it can be applied to any band that doesn't sing exclusively in English. Both labels narrow down a band's potential fan-base; if there's any band in this city whose music should appeal to the widest possible demographic, though, it's Grupo. Prince knows this...and despite the litigious artist he has become over the last year, an endorsement from him still counts for something. When Prince summoned Grupo Fantasma to be his backing band for a star-studded Golden Globes afterparty in November 2006, it was the beginning of a wild and unexpected ride. During that gig, Grupo held its own behind Prince's guitar playing, Talib Kweli's rapping, and Marc Anthony's and Mary J. Blige's singing. If that isn't a testament to the band's adaptability, I don't know what is. Last year, the band backed Prince at the Super Bowl, opened for him in London, and did a residency at his short-lived 3121 club in Las Vegas. The union between Prince and Grupo Fantasma was symbiotic: it enabled Prince to do his best Santana impersonation, something he couldn't accomplish on his own (listen to 3121's corny "Te Amo Corazon" for proof), and it boosted both Grupo's profile and confidence. In the middle of it all, the band found time to record its third album, Sonidos Gold. In my opinion, Sonidos Gold is not only Grupo's best album by a wide margin, but it is also one of the best albums any band in any genre has released so far this year. With the help of new lead vocalist/percussionist Jose Galeano—whose uncle played timbales in the original Santana band—Grupo has incorporated more forms of Afro-Latin music into its sound. The music on Sonidos Gold switches from cumbia to salsa to merengue and back again, with detours into Yoruba chants ("Rumba y Guaguanco"), straight funk ("Bacalao Con Pan", "Gimme Some"), dub ("Cumbia de los Parajitos") and even spaghetti Western ("Perso Fra I Mesquites"). The band shows off more than they did on Movimiento, which is a good thing: even the longest songs feel like they could've gone on longer without losing the listener's interest. The production is laced with enough reverb and delay to give the music an almost psychedelic effect. Sonidos Gold demonstrates such immense improvement that, as much as I recommend the band's previous albums to anyone who isn't already familiar with them, I myself no longer desire to listen to them. Needless to say, the members of Grupo had a lot to celebrate when they held their Sonidos Gold release party, and both levels of the Mohawk's standing area were full of people ready to celebrate with them. The band played a 90-minute set that ran through almost every song on the new album, along with choice cuts from their previous three. They left the audience very little time to breathe between songs, segueing instantly from one to the next until they blurred into each other. Galeano kept his stage banter to a minimum, occasionally thanking the audience for its continued support. Guitarists Beto Martinez and Adrian Quesada took turns inserting sky-scraping guitar solos into the songs, while new baritone saxophonist Josh Levy cut through the entire sound system with stomach-rumbling interjections. The band spent the latter portion of the set paying tribute to its influences: an excellent cover of James Brown's "Soul Power", a nearly flawless 15-minute Santana medley, and an instrumental cover of Prince's "Chelsea Rodgers" that bettered the original. As usual, the audience stayed in motion through every minute of the set. I got almost as much of a kick from watching other people dance as I did from watching the band play. Hopefully, this triumphant hometown show was just a prelude to a long-overdue national breakthrough. With a blockbuster live show, a stunning new album, and the endorsement of one of this era's greatest musicians, Grupo Fantasma are closer than ever to becoming a household name. Anglophones, start learning how to roll your "r"s now.

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Jefferson Starship Soar Again with 'Mother of the Sun'

Rock goddess Cathy Richardson speaks out about honoring the legacy of Paul Kantner, songwriting with Grace Slick for the Jefferson Starship's new album, and rocking the vote to dump Trump.

Books

Black Diamond Queens: African American Women and Rock and Roll (excerpt)

Ikette Claudia Lennear, rumored to be the inspiration for Mick Jagger's "Brown Sugar", often felt disconnect between her identity as an African American woman and her engagement with rock. Enjoy this excerpt of cultural anthropologist Maureen Mahon's Black Diamond Queens, courtesy of Duke University Press.

Maureen Mahon
Music

Ane Brun's 'After the Great Storm' Features Some of Her Best Songs

The irresolution and unease that pervade Ane Brun's After the Great Storm perfectly mirror the anxiety and social isolation that have engulfed this post-pandemic era.

Music

'Long Hot Summers' Is a Lavish, Long-Overdue Boxed Set from the Style Council

Paul Weller's misunderstood, underappreciated '80s soul-pop outfit the Style Council are the subject of a multi-disc collection that's perfect for the uninitiated and a great nostalgia trip for those who heard it all the first time.

Music

ABBA's 'Super Trouper' at 40

ABBA's winning – if slightly uneven – seventh album Super Trouper is reissued on 45rpm vinyl for its birthday.

Music

The Mountain Goats Find New Sonic Inspiration on 'Getting Into Knives'

John Darnielle explores new sounds on his 19th studio album as the Mountain Goats—and creates his best record in years with Getting Into Knives.

Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 60-41

PopMatters' coverage of the 2000s' best recordings continues with selections spanning Swedish progressive metal to minimalist electrosoul.

Books

Is Carl Neville's 'Eminent Domain' Worth the Effort?

In Carl Neville's latest novel, Eminent Domain, he creates complexities and then shatters them into tiny narrative bits arrayed along a non-linear timeline.

Film

Horrors in the Closet: Horrifying Heteronormative Scapegoating

The artificial connection between homosexuality and communism created the popular myth of evil and undetectable gay subversives living inside 1950s American society. Film both reflected and refracted the homophobia.

Music

Johnny Nash Refused to Remember His Place

Johnny Nash, part rock era crooner, part Motown, and part reggae, was too polite for the more militant wing of the Civil Rights movement, but he also suffered at the hands of a racist music industry that wouldn't market him as a Black heartthrob. Through it all he was himself, as he continuously refused to "remember his place".

Music

John Hollenbeck Completes a Trilogy with 'Songs You Like a Lot'

The third (and final?) collaboration between a brilliant jazz composer/arranger, the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckman, and the post-1950 American pop song. So great that it shivers with joy.

Music

The Return of the Rentals After Six Years Away

The Rentals release a space-themed album, Q36, with one absolute gem of a song.

Music

Matthew Murphy's Post-Wombats Project Sounds a Lot Like the Wombats (And It's a Good Thing)

While UK anxiety-pop auteurs the Wombats are currently hibernating, frontman Matthew "Murph" Murphy goes it alone with a new band, a mess of deprecating new earworms, and revived energy.

Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 80-61

In this next segment of PopMatters' look back on the music of the 2000s, we examine works by British electronic pioneers, Americana legends, and Armenian metal provocateurs.

Music

In the Tempest's Eye: An Interview with Surfer Blood

Surfer Blood's 2010 debut put them on the map, but their critical sizzle soon faded. After a 2017 comeback of sorts, the group's new record finds them expanding their sonic by revisiting their hometown with a surprising degree of reverence.

Music

Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.

Books

Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.

Music

'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.