Mariachi El Bronx, Eagle and the Worm, Ukeladies @ The Forum Theatre, Melbourne (23/10/2010)

The Ukeladies are a local Melbourne group that are usually a two piece but extended into a bigger band for this show. Hawaiian crooning and 50s style tiki and Hawaiian guitar music is certainly one of life’s pleasures. This may be what they usually play, but with the additional members, it took on another dimension. As a smaller outfit, this classic Hawaiian influenced sound works better in a smaller venue, and in a larger outfit, didn’t translate as well to the size of space of the Forum.

A band not lacking in the size department, Eagle and The Worm have the beginnings of a hype machine behind them and clock in at seven members. With the recent release of a music video, All I Know, being received warmly, as well as a few memorable gigs under their belts, they actually are the perfect choice for a support for Mariachi El Bronx. The live element of this band is where the magic is, as the recorded songs don’t do this band justice and make them seem more twee than they really are. Sure, they are bouncy. This turns into catchy, turns into infectious, turns into audience interpretive dance. It’s entertaining watching most of the Forum, down below and in the stalls, doing some kind of movement from swaying to all out jiving. The live energy, which can be said of a lot of other great bands, is unstoppable. They are doing a national tour soon which will definitely be worth the cover charge.

Matt Caughthran from Mariachi El Bronx was clearly psyched to be at the Forum for the Melbourne Arts Festival, a fact he imparts to the crowd on several occasions. There’s an even split between those that know and love the Bronx and are curious about this new mariachi direction the band is taking, and those that are present because they love the Melbourne Arts Festival, dancing and Taco Bills. Caughtran tells us that this is about all the Mexican culture that Aussies get, and he’s probably right. Be curious no more. It’s not a new direction, so much as something he considers to be just as conceptually punk as anything the Bronx has ever done.

Traditional mariachi has no drums and Mariachi El Bronx does. The universal themes of heartbreak, minimum wage and friendship still apply and sound so good in a non traditional rhythm structure. Set opener Mothers Little Helper, a Mariachi El Bronx take on the Stones’ classic, epitomises this approach, with Caughtran crooning lyrics like “it feels so good to be old” and calling the song Slave Labour.

While Caughtran likes to raise awareness of issues that affect us all, he is also a master of humour and can make painful material transform into redemptive and even danceable pieces. One of the best parts of the night is when Caughtran sees that there are two men with rainbow sombreros in the crowd and gets one of them to pass up the hat. He is about to put it on, then realises it’s a Taco Bill’s hat, which is equivalent to Taco Bells, the whitest whitebread Mexican restaurant chain going. He laughs and won’t wear it, then reconsiders and wears it for the next song. Why try to summarise the night and set in any other way? Mariachi El Bronx is that rainbow sombrero. And then a killer encore makes everyone want to be in a mariachi band from LA. Come back any time.