Elefante, Zakke
Motorco Music Hall, Durham
Saturday, September 19, 2015

On Saturday night, Parts&Labor buzzed with its regular dog-toting clientele, munching away on sliders and enjoying beer in (finally) less than 90-degree weather. But something was different: Small groups of Spanish speakers also lined the picnic tables, happily eating while waiting for their favorite band, Elefante, to take the stage. Hugely popular in Mexico and hailing from its capital, Elefante is one of a string of Latin rock acts to hit the Triangle lately. Motorco proved to be a welcoming venue for the excited crowd.

Opening group Zakke made the trek from D.C. to warm up even the most timid listeners. Concertgoer Daphne Flores was one of many searching for the group on Facebook by mid-set, no doubt prompted by frontman Max Velázquez’s infectious energy as he karate-chop-conducted Zakke through original and covered music. For lingering still bodies, cumbia’s chugging rhythm is a popular remedy prescribed by many Latin popular music groups. And if that doesn’t work, why not some old-school Latin boogaloo? Covering Pete Rodríguez’s “I Like it Like That,” Zakke brought everyone right into the center of the dance floor.

Taking the stage to the sound of ecstatic cheers, Elefante launched into the polished first half of their set. And they are a bona fide group. The band has changed vocalists twice during a decade-long trajectory. But Javi Ortega, clad in all black, seemed to strike the perfect balance between charismatic frontman and playing well with others, blending voices with songwriters/guitarists Rafael López and Ahis. As drummer Iguana grabbed the mic, wielding tequila, the group recreated their classic video for moody “Así es la vida.” The crowd prepared for a massive sing-along. Returning to the drumset, Iguana picked up the beat as Javi bitterly interjected the band’s trademark line, “Que no quieres nada más de mi, que te fuiste con ese infeliz, ¿Qué importa?”—or, “If you don’t want anything to do with me, that you left me for that fool, what does it matter?”

It is a rare event for bands to stop halfway through their set for requests, but that is exactly what Elefante did Saturday night, allowing the band to take a much-needed breather after a high-energy first half. Creating an impromptu medley of shortened favorites, the band primed the crowd for the enthusiastic second part of the show, hitting all the right buttons with “Mentirosa.” That is when female fans scaled the stage and posed for pictures until they were politely escorted off by a stagehand.

After a couple of encores, the minimal staff lined the ramp to the greenroom, and the escorted band took refuge. This points to one of the difficulties of staging a show for such a popular band at a smaller venue—logistically, Motorco is not set up for prohibiting passionate fans from attempting to break down the fourth wall. One man complained that he and his wife have followed the band all over the country and that they have invested lots of money in following them, as though money meant they deserved to speak with them.

As Elefante (and their vehement fans) proved on Saturday, rock still matters, especially to the Spanish-speaking public. As I surveyed the T-shirts in the crowd, I saw a few protesting the disappearance of 43 students from Ayotzinapa or celebrating Mexico (after all, the concert was only a few days after Mexican Independence day). I saw some band T-shirts, too. Rock was the powerful glue that brought many people into a part of town they didn’t know well to see a group that takes backseat to none. This can only happen successfully when the environment is propitious for this type of movement; this is what Motorco and Durham get right.