Calle 13 continues its evolution

By Julio Lara | October 13, 2014

It’s a blessing. And it’s a curse.

On the one hand Calle 13, the internationally renowned music group from Puerto Rico, can do no wrong. They’re different, unpredictable, always multi-faceted at a time when doing so in the music industry can come across as forced — for Calle 13, being those things and still earning the respect of peers and fans alike seems effortless.

Take “Multi Viral” for example — their latest album explores untraversed land for the group on the never-ending quest to set itself apart from the norm. While any other group with four Grammy-winning albums and millions of die-hard fans across the globe might consider stepping outside that box to be a sort of risk, Calle 13 has long established they could not care less what common sense thinks — they’re going to give the world music their way.

And like I said, it’s a blessing to be that good — from a studio stand point, Calle 13’s “Multi Viral” is a smash, with the potential to pick up as many as nine Latin Grammys next month is Las Vegas.

Rene "El Residente" Joglar of Calle 13 performs at the Warfield in San Francisco as part of the "Multi Viral" tour. Calle 13's latest album, "Multi Viral" is nominated for nine Latin Grammys.   Photo by Gabriela Arvizu

Rene “El Residente” Joglar of Calle 13 performs at the Warfield in San Francisco as part of the “Multi Viral” tour. Calle 13’s latest album, “Multi Viral” is nominated for nine Latin Grammys. Photo by Gabriela Arvizu

But the curse comes in the form of a live music show. Yes, the music is sensational, Rene Joglar’s (Residente) energy on stage and his lyrical deliver is as sharp as ever, the message drenched in political awareness is still potent, however, you can’t judge a Calle 13 show based on these things anymore — for a group that prides itself on being different, there has to be more.

And yes, Calle 13’s latest trek through the Bay Area, which hit the Warfield in San Francisco a couple of months after a less-than-stellar showing at the box office in San Jose, was more of a success. While Calle 13 can draws tens-of-thousands of fans in other cities and countries (see: Supersonico Fest, Vive Latino), the Bay Area is a tricky place. Their first go-around in San Jose didn’t draw the numbers it should have and the experience suffered because of it, however, it wasn’t anything Calle 13 did wrong. In San Francisco last weekend, the attendance numbers were stronger for a venue like the Warfield and thus the energy more fitting for a group like Calle 13 who relies heavily on an intimacy unique to them and their fans. That’s where the magic of Joglar’s words lie — no matter how big or how successful the group gets touring the world, it all comes back to his message and how it can be applied to their fans’ lives.

So, because all those things are consistent at every Calle 13 show, the burden and pressure of a great concert falls on the fan. Joglar, his half-sister Ileana and Visitante Edgardo Martinez, will always deliver the goods. “Multi Viral” is very much an acquired taste and the group knows this. Songs like the self-titled, “Adentro,” “Ojos Color Sol” and “El Aguante” were carefully woven between Calle 13’s large catalog of hits to make sure there weren’t any sustained new-album lulls that can happen when fans aren’t familiar with new songs. That lull is made incredibly more difficult by Joglar’s style — he’s a gifted machine gun of a rapper, and if you didn’t do your homework, he might as well be rapping in Mandarin and not Spanish.

But then again, more and more it’s becoming evident that Calle 13’s success on stage will depend on the loyalty of its fans. In a sense, how big of a fan are you truly? Did you do enough listening and following between concert visits to your city to not get lost in a new-album lull?

That is the curse for Calle 13 — they’re just too good, too radical and too awesome of a band to set the concert bar at a height they can reach with great ease. The box office and classic renditions of “No Hay Nadie Como Tu” and “Atrevete” might suffice enough to tack another dash in the win column for the group. But based on the rebellious spirit and soul of Calle 13, that isn’t enough.

And if you’re a die-hard loyalist of the group, that’s a whole different type of blessing — one that will keep on giving for years to come.