Photos courtesy of Benjamin Oliver Hicks En La Calle Photographer.
It was Saturday night and I hadn’t made any plans. My wife, Maeghen, was off watching Adam Lazzara swing his microphone and I’d decided to pass, but my mom had already told me she’d watch the baby for a while, and I’d seen that a few of my buds were going to the Piñata Protest event on Facebook. I’d seen Piñata once before with Brujeria and The Casualties, and remembered their set being a lot of fun. They are like the Mexican Flogging Molly, and that night was a blast, so I decided to message my friend Cody and planned to meet up with him and Zooki at Lola’s Trailor Park in Fort Worth for the show. Read that story below.
Zooki and Cody promptly bailed on me about ten minutes after I arrived, of course, to get “bougie with some champagne” on the couch, but given my intial impressions as well as all the local buzz in my hometown, Dallas, about 10-year-old and running San Antonio punk act Piñata Protest, solo or not, I knew I was in for a real treat. Plus there were a few members from the opening acts I didn’t mind catching up with. You know, you’re never really alone when you go to a punk show. I recommend them, highly.
It was an early show, set to end by eleven, so unfortunately by the time I got there, just after sunset as I have this thing about rock and roll in the daytime, (…in Texas) my buds’ bands had already played. How’s My Driving? provide a tight nit sound with a 90’s skate-punk vibe and good ska infusions with catchy lyrics. They are a fun group of guys and a good time to jump around with.
The Lash Outs, who opened the show, are one of my local faves and have been for some time. I used to have their song “The Kids Don’t Dance No More” on my Myspace wall if that’s saying anything. They play a technical style pop punk with a Buddy Holly charm… or maybe it’s just the glasses. I don’t know. One time I saw them, and the drummer was playing the jock in the back of class routine, detached and uninterested with his feet propped up on his toms, but always on cue, like maybe he was carrying around a Sartre play in his back pocket.
On my way up to Lola’s outdoor stage, I ran into Carson, the guitar player for How’s My Driving?. I’ll just stick with “Carson” for now… One, because I don’t know his last name, and two, because he uses “the only Asian in the scene” as a distinguishing characteristic. He informed me that he had been right around my vicinity in the pit the previous night at Alkaline Trio when some drunk couple decided they’d make a game of spilling beer on everyone. Slightly upset, but maybe more in awe of my wife who grabbed his beer and chunked it, the inebriated homie felt the need to drunkenly justify his behavior to me next song break. I was in the process of explaining that I didn’t have anything to say to him and that I didn’t care (while the lovely lady I was with gave him the finger, I should add) when the girl he was with… kind of attacked me, and started calling me a pussy. They were both dragged away by a wonderful angel who smiled at me and came from nowhere and told me I didn’t have to listen to that. Wonder Woman, whoever she was.
“Oh my God! You saw that?” I laughed.
“Yeah.” He told me, and then proceeded to tell me that the girl ended up in a few fist fights with several other angry femmes in the audience. Where security was in all this, I have no idea. Ninjas straight up throwing down at Alkaline Trio… What is wrong with people?
Carson and I parted ways, he to load up the guitars he’d been carrying, and myself, towards the music to see a Fort Worth band that I hadn’t seen before, The Vatican Press. I’m pretty sure they are a newer band although I do recall seeing them pop up on a few show fliers before. They play’d pop punk originals and I remember being impressed by some of the vocal harmonies which came somewhat unexpectedly. They had a song, “Sunshine Girl”, which I thought was a pretty solid and catchy tune.
After the set, I ducked back to my truck for a bit of anxiety relief. Aside from that, I’ve been riding the sober train lately and had time to reflect to myself that this would be my first time watching a Mexican play accordion, while drinking soda water. As I made my way back to the venue, a beautiful night breeze brought me the soundcheck, and the second I reentered, it happened. I was transported back to the barbecue… my friends’ sobrinas’ quinceañeras, World Cup gatherings with fajitas or ceviche, and Sunday night cook-outs after an afternoon spent watching the Cowboys game. Only these guys were playing a lot faster.
Piñata Protest took the stage and at once new energies were apparent under the big, bright night sky of Texas. From the first squeeze of lead singer/accordion player Alvaro Del Norte’s squeezebox, on “Vato Perron”, the band’s opening song, movement of the crowd directed stage-side, hips began swaying on the dance floor, and sweaty elbows began flying, fists in the air, mouths moving, “Vatos Perrones, we’re here to stay, we won’t go away, live for today.”
Instantly, my eyes were drawn to Alvaro’s movements, dancing and jumping around with his instrument, which has the familiar charm of a family heirloom. Guitarist, Regino Lopez’ surf-style stance and interlacing of heavier “skank-y” riff patterns and solos into each song is reminiscent of The Suicide Machines, but embedded into a traditional Latino folk punk atmosphere. This is a band that’s hard to put your finger on, exactly, and whose stage presence and musical tenacity I wanted to get a close look at, but whose energy is incurable in that space and crowd, and their fast-paced “Bo-da bo-da” rhythm makes for a nice, rowdy time in the circle pit. My suggestion to you, though, is look before you leap because their stylish blend of punk rock is infectious and at times you’ll feel a bump on your shoulder only to turn around and find a dance floor full of people shaking to cumbias. Bassist, Richie Brown, and drummer, Chris-Ruptive provide a solid and well-oiled rock and roll rhythm section with flashes of Latin flare giving us the perfect ingredients for “Punk rock like Abuela used to make.”
Piñata Protest has a way about inspiring audience participation in their set, at one point giving us a choice between two crowd favorites, “Volver, Volver” or “Tragos Amargos.” “Volver, Volver” won, and to join in the song, the band welcomed to the stage Abel Casillas, accordion player for The Squeezebox Bandits who were set to play the after party in the bar, as well as a member of the audience to perform his loudest grito to kick off the music and periodically throughout the rest of the song. Alvaro then set up a “wall of death” based on whether we each liked salsa verde o salsa roja preferably. I was tempted to make a push for asado but didn’t think it was wise to play the man in the middle. Of course, that’s where I ended up though.
Not much of a political band, however Alvaro did take a break to express his own experience of being a Mexican American in a Latino punk band, and how this is the first year in many years touring and playing shows that they have been harassed for singing in Spanish. His response was, “I’m gonna sing in whatever fucking language I want to sing in, cabrones!” to which the crowd cheered and applauded in unison. Invariably, one of the highlights of every Piñata Protest show is the mini Spanish lesson that comes with it. “This side says, ‘Chinga!’ This side says, ‘Tu madre!’ ‘Chinga tu madre! Chinga tu madre!'” he instructs. “‘I love you mother’ is what that means. Go home and tell all your mothers.” he says.
Piñata Protest ended the set with “Cantina”, and left the stage for the after party where they promised, “drinking and dancing all night long with the Squeezebox Bandits,” but not before a unanimous crowd uproar of “Otra! Otra!” for an encore which the band obliged with their rendition of a Latino classic, “La Chona” to end the night. Clapping hands and swinging hips and chants of, “Hey! Hey! Hey! Hey!” filled the air under the deep blue tent of almost midnight. I didn’t stay for the after party, but even so, the show was well worth the trip.
Much love to En La Calle! Follow him on Instagram @enlacalle_onthestreet