Live Review: Ozomatli at the Belly Up, January 27, 2012

Photo credit: Ozomatli Facebook page

No strangers to San Diego, Ozomatli kicked off the first of a 2-night performance at the Belly Up in Solana Beach on Friday night.

Trying to label Ozo’s musical style would be a mistake. In their 17 years together, they have successfully blended their primarily Latin-rock-based music with sounds from all over the world, including hip hop, funk, and salsa. The diversity of their music is matched by the number of different instruments they incorporate into their performances, which includes soprano and alto saxophones, trumpets, melodica, requinto jaracho, and all kinds of percussion. Though the lineup has changed over the years, Ozomatli’s passion for performing live and fighting for social justice has never wavered.

The night kicked off with a set from Tommy Dubs and his band, The Seismic Levelers. The Ocean Beach musicians warmed up the crowd well with a reggae rock sound fused with electronic elements. Promoting their latest release, Tommy finished the 7-song set by throwing out t-shirts and passed out free CD’s to people in the crowd.

Ozomatli took the stage just before 10:30 pm, opening with “La Gallina” from their fourth studio album Don’t Mess with the Dragon. As evidenced by their onstage dancing, their enthusiasm was infectious, and soon the entire crowd was moving to the music. For nearly two hours, Ozo powered through songs from all five of their studio albums, including crowd favorites “Can’t Stop,” “City of Angels,” “After Party,” “Cuando Canto” and “Saturday Night.” The band always kept the crowd engaged, and convinced attendees to parrot back the trumpet solos played by lead singer Asdrubal Sierra, reminiscent of Cab Calloway’s “Minnie the Moucher.” They even broke out into a 10-minute jam session during “Cumbia de los Muertos,” in which they did a short musical rendition of Bob Marley’s “Stir It Up.”

The highlight of the entire night came after Ozomatli played their last song “Como Ves,” which had both the crowd and band jumping all over the place. The band launched into a chant, “Ozo-Mat-Li…Ya se fue!” which was repeated over and over by the enthusiastic audience. Ozo then brought the show from the stage to the seats, using all sorts of percussion instruments to create a samba-like drum line in the middle of the crowd. Bassist Wil-Dog Abers then led the band in a conga line through the venue, with the audience following them, leading into an “Ole, Ole, Ole” chant and a percussion performance of Depeche Mode’s “I Just Can’t Get Enough.” The drum line ended right at the exit of the Belly Up with the band playing a rousing encore, followed by yet another conga line which led them right out of the venue.

Studio albums do this band no justice. Their musical diversity and elements of performance can only be appreciated in person. When you see how much they thrive on playing live, it’s no wonder they’ve been able to maintain such staying power for 17 years. It’s a safe bet that they’ll be able to maintain that zeal for music and social peace for years to come.

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