Pistolera Fires On All Cylinders at Joe’s Pub
Of all the excellent rock-en-Español bands in and passing through New York, Pistolera represent the elegant, catchy, tersely literate front. Their energetic, businesslike set at Joe’s Pub last night further cemented that reputation, mixing songs from their three albums which draw equally on ranchera ballads, American powerpop and older, more rustic Mexican styles. Frontwoman Sandra Lilia Velasquez kept her vocals smoldering and low-key for the most part, although she showed off a surprisingly powerful upper register on the most dramatic (and most intensely applauded) song of the night, a big, wounded border ballad. The bassist swung hard through his relentlessly rising, melodic lines as the drummer switched from straight-up, four-on-the-floor rock, adding a funkier edge or a scurrying shuffle beat on several other numbers.
Otherwise, the show was like Very Be Careful (with a better singer) playing Mexican rock. Not that Very Be Careful isn’t a great live band, or that the accordion isn’t a beautiful instrument: in the hands of Pistolera’s Maria Elena (a black belt kickboxer, as it turns out), there was a nonstop river of gorgeously plaintive tones sailing over the punch of the rhythm section. Too bad that other than vocals, that’s all there was in the mix. Pistolera gets their signature sound from the jangle and clang of their guitars, and throughout the set, the lead player was seldom audible and Velasquez hardly ever. Joe’s Pub isn’t known for good sound: this was a new low, and it doesn’t seem to be related to ongoing renovations which have shuffled the tables and bar seating.
But the band didn’t let it phase them. Even without the guitars, Todo Se Cae (Everything Falls Down) was an understatedly potent, anthemic reminder of the precarious state of the world. After alternating several similarly anthemic tunes, notably the irresistible, resolutely bouncy Nueva York (from their new concept album El Desierto Y La Cuidad) alongside a couple of pensive, minor-key laments, they closed with a practically gleeful version of the banda-rock hit Policia. “This is about when I got arrested,” Velasquez smirked, referring to the incident that inspired the song, when she discovered that it’s now illegal in this country for a woman to wear a bullet belt while boarding a flight.
An idea as to how Joe’s Pub might be able to banish the nasty feedback that plagues the PA system here, without turning off the guitars: why not do what the Rockwood Music Hall does? The sound booth at both of the rooms there is up in the rafters, just as it is at Joe’s Pub. But Ken Rockwood’s people operate as a team: in the larger room, the sound engineer tweaks the frequencies while a colleague makes his or her way through the crowd, texting the engineer with any needed modifications. It works like a charm there. Or maybe Joe’s Pub ought to take Rockwood onboard as a consultant: they sure could use him, or somebody like him, right now.