I just realized that I have never written about this album. Which is dumb, because it's one of the few live career-summing-up albums that actually works that way. Done in front of their adoring Mexico City audience in two discs (two and a half plus a DVD if you're a nerd like me and order the "special edition" from Amazon), it pretty much puts everything they've ever done out there all jumbled-up chronologically like they've had a unified plan all the time --

Oh, wait, you don't know much about Café Tacuba? Well, I'm not going to pretend to be an expert. But this little bunch of pretentious funny adorable punky bohemians have been hugely important to Mexican music, and pretty important to me too. But they get very little love from us up here, because we are stupid. Here we will list awesome things about them:

1.Embracing music in all its forms. These guys do everything. This is shown most dramatically on Re, where they sashay through TWENTY songs in about 17.4 styles, including metal-thrash, lovely folkish stuff, and avant-banda two-step. They also had their whole "let's get weird" time with Reves/Yosoy, a simultaneous double-album where one disc was pretty songs and the other was industrial-ish instrumentals. Even on the overly-mannered Cuatro Caminos, they messed around with the envelope a bit. Ambition is not a bad thing.

2. Intelligence out the culo. These guys are smart as hell. This usually gets all focused on tiny Rubén Albarran (aka Sizu Yantra, aka Nru, aka Elfuego Buendía, aka Amparo Tonto Medardo In Lak'ech, etc.), because he's the singer, but it's pretty clear that Joselo & Quique Rangel and Emmanuel del Real are just as sharp and weird and on-the-ball. This can be seen in their various solo projects and side-gigs, but also in their own CT tracks, as this is not a U2 singer-does-all-the-lyrics thing.

3. Charisma, dammit. The best thing about Un Viaje, to me, is to hear these guys work the crowd. It's all one big huge pulsating animal in there. This goes beyond just the screams, or the way everyone knows all the lyrics to "Esa Noche" -- listen to the way the crowd responds to the opening notes of "La Ingrata," like they're all OH SNAPS HERE IT COMES. I also love how "La Ingrata" started Mexico City vs. Monterrey beef because El Gran Silencio thought CT was making fun of norteño music. I love carne like that.

There are a lot more but they'll have to wait. (One point has to do with the fact that Rubén's voice is nasal and high and freaky, a fact that has turned some of my coolest friends off this band; I love his voice though, it's the permanent snag in the zipper.) For now, if you can get any of their records for cheapsies, do it -- we might have Los Beatles in our midst and not even know it.

At this altitude
I see/hear everything --
Todo es bueno


Man, people love to hate on this album. The review on AMG is contemptuous, and even the one guy over at The Motherpage doesn't have much good to say about it. But I love it for two reasons, here enunciated for your pleasure.

1. It came out in late 1983, but I don't think I copped it until spring of '84, probably because I saw a review in "Rolling Stone" or something like that. (Wow, I guess it must have been this one!) Which means, of course, that this was one of the tapes on heavy rotation the spring that I graduated from high school and the summer that followed, along with Urban Dancefloor Guerrillas and a bunch of others. (Remembering: 1984, Violent Femmes, Born in the USA, "When Doves Cry" and then subsequently Purple Rain, that one Lionel Richie album, etc.) (There are a lot more of course, my brane don't work so good today.) So: sentimental attachment yes.

2. But good lord what a fun record. "Let's Dance" is a huge huge slab of P.Funk/Bootsy ambiguity; huge bouncy beat with psychedelic backwards/forwards vocals, nasty James Brown riffs, perfect example of on-the-one-ish-ness, all in service of such a sad story! (To wit: loser can't ask girl to dance, goes home to whack off while the narrator and little cartoon aliens make fun of him. BEEN THERE.) The title song is classic George bad pun action but in service of preventing nuclear holocaust -- was that the last summer we actually thought it might happen? --, "Silly Millameter" runs some excellent changes too. Sure, George really shouldn't rap, but it's not like he really thinks he's good or anything, and the sci-fi reincarnation thing is lovely. And then you have Blackbyrd McKnight's filthy solo all over "Quickie," truly his high point. Hazel's here, Bernie's here, George and Garry trade leads on "Stingy"...people who hate on solo George really need an attitude adjustment via my foot and their ass.


I think I was in 5th or maybe 6th grade when I first heard this one too. I got it from my friend Robbie, who didn't like it much maybe and wanted to give me something to make sure our friendship was cemented. (We didn't stay real close but we ended up hanging out some in high school. He was present for the famous "Highway Ice-Sliding Split-Brain Incident" of January 1984, still one of my finest moments.)

I brought this album home and put it on immediately. My brothers and I were pretty obsessed with Bill Cosby, and we couldn't wait to hear this record. The first side is pretty good, a number of shorter sketches in front of a live audience in Cleveland. He does his Cosby thing with the noises and the wry observations and all, but he was lean and hungry then, already a superstar but still with a big edge.

Well, actually, not really an edge; nothing here is shouting "Death to racists" or "Fuck the Man" or anything. I think he considered himself above all that, and wanted to provide a good example in those days of turmoil and trouble. (Reminds me of an article I'm doing at work about Sidney Poitier, but I don't know enough about that whole scene to pontificate.) But there is a lot of anger here that peeks through at weird moments.

And some of it is just the fact that Cosby is a weird dude. He's strangely anti-woman -- the sketch about how his daughters learn to swim ends with a bizarre throwaway thing about how "I wanted sons but my wife gave me these two losers" is met with troubled laughter but also applause, people wanted to think they were edgy too. Or maybe they also just thought girls really were losers. Also, the Adam and Eve thing is just all about WOMEN = SMART/INCONSTANT, MEN = DUMB/LOYAL, hahaha whatever. But then he saves it with the great God voice going "Okay everyone..." Well, I won't spoil it for you. It's too great a laugh line.

That's what this album shows, though; it's a bravura freakin' performance about how to work an audience like a rented mule. He jokes with the people up in "the cheap seats," he tosses off surreal throwaway lines, doubles back on himself in a carefully controlled way, nails every line with perfect timing. He's got three instruments: the microphone, often used as a percussion device or a special effect studio (he growls close into it to create echoes, etc.), the audience, and his own prodigious brain.

This is never more evident than on the title track, which takes up the second side with an incredible story about him and his brother and the bed they shared. For 26 minutes, he is the biggest rock star in the world doing the world's greatest solo. He gently reminds people that he grew up in the ghetto, but doesn't want any sympathy or anything; it's just about the details. (Plus, it was a pretty okay ghetto, what with a piano and linoleum floors and everything. Cos wasn't rockin' any projects I've ever been in or anything.)

As the thing goes on, carefully laid out in four segments that each ratchet up the drama and the hilarity -- the brothers fight over the bed, their father gets madder, they break the bed, etc. -- the audience and the listener at home are both in the same position: leaning forward farther and farther without even realizing it, wanting to know what happens next...and then...and then....

My dad loves Bill Cosby and ended up stealing a lot of mannerisms from him in the way he tells stories, but I think I've taken more. When I go on school visits and talk about my childhood and how it led me to be a not-very-successful children's-book author, that's my whole steez right there, housed from Cos.

Except, I hope, without the misogyny and the implied social conservativism.