By Alfredo Flores
SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Published September 4, 2006
It was a new album and a new venue, but the same old crazy fun when the Venezuelan electrofunk group Los Amigos Invisibles celebrated the release of its new album "SuperPop Venezuela" with a three-hour Latin dancing, booty-shaking performance at the 9:30 Club Friday night -- the band's first appearance there after years of sold-out shows at the smaller Black Cat. It was apparent from the start that much of the audience had been to an LAI show before. Many sported Amigos T-shirts, others wore disco-era clothing, and those who didn't dress the part made sure to leave their inhibitions at the door and were prepared to dance their hearts out. The concert started with the smash single "Amor" -- an appropriate theme to the night. "Amor for the Spanish, amour for the French. Love in any language always means the same," sang lead singer and self-proclaimed Latin playboy Julio Briceno (aka "Chulius") shaking maracas in a military-style bucket hat and green shirt. Love was indeed in the air as couples paired off on the spacious dance floor, dancing salsa to Latin-tinged electronica, cumbia, rock, soul and funk beats. Many of the ladies crowded to the front of the stage to get a better look at the handsome lead singer, joined up front by lead guitarist Jose Luis Pardo (appropriately dubbed "DJ Afro" on account of his hair style and duties as the opening act's disc jockey); and the suavely goateed bass guitarist Jose Rafael Torres (aka "Catire"). Now in their 15th year together, the group has come a long way from its much darker grunge rock roots in native Caracas -- a city that, like the band, embraced various types of world music when international investment in the nation's oil started to boom in the 1970s. It's had its fair share of accolades -- including a Latin Grammy nomination for the 2004 release "Venezuela Zinga Son Vol. 1," which loosely translates to "The Largest Love-making Session in Venezuela." Despite fame, LAI has always chosen to play in smaller venues to be closer to the audience. Mr. Briceno's energy, passion for his craft and love of his adoring fans was apparent from the start. During most of the concert he pointed, winked and flirted with female fans, holding his microphone sensually close to his lips while belting out sexy songs such as "Cuchi Cuchi" ("Booty Booty"). While the lyrics were raunchy at times, the bass-driven beats -- helped by keyboardist Armando "Monsieur Armand" Figueredo, Mauricio "Maurimix" Arcas on the congas and Manuel "Mamulo" Roura on drums -- were rarely objectionable. The audience, especially those who didn't understand Spanish, couldn't have cared care less about the words, preferring to get down and dance to the retro '70s-style music. Neither longtime Amigos aficionados nor that evening's converts were disappointed, as evidenced by the many calls for "otra, otra, otra" ("more") and the band's quadruple encore.