We all found different ways to pass the time during the pandemic. Famed Austin guitarist and producer Adrian Quesada spent his time listening to classics from the balada movement of the 1970s Latin music world, becoming so enchanted he decided to record an album of songs in that style himself. Boleros Psicodélicos – literally “psychedelic boleros” – features guest vocalists from across the spectrum of contemporary Latin music, from indie rock to grand pop, garnering accolades across the board. For this special ACL taping, which is only the second time this music has been performed live, Quesada welcomed eight sensational guest vocalists to the stage, nearly every singer from the album, to bring to life their album performances, plus some special additional songs.
Dressed in variations on basic black, Quesada and his nine-piece band (including strings, horn, vibraphone and keyboardist Jaron Marshall from Quesada’s other band Black Pumas) opened the show with “Starry Nights,” a lush and funky instrumental taken from Jaguar Sound, his forthcoming LP that draws inspiration from library music, hip-hop, psychedelia and Italian film scores. Following that scene-setter, Quesada brought on Mireya Ramos, the leader of New York’s all-female mariachi Flor de Toloache, for the first song from Boleros Psicodélicos: “Tus Tormentas,” a ballad with a laidback hip-hop backbeat and spectacular singing and violin from Ramos. Marshall then laid down some ethereal organ as an intro to “El León,” a swaying, melodramatic bossa nova featuring Chicago rocker Rudy de Anya. Mexico City’s sultry R&B Latin singer Girl Ultra took the stage for a pair of tunes: the original ballad “El Payaso,” which featured a ringing solo from vibraphonist Carolyn Trowbridge, and a cover of the groovy “Trigal,” a 1969 hit for Argentine singer Sandro.
“How does this happen? You’re all here singing along to boleros at ACL Live,” noted Quesada happily, mentioning the chills he gets from playing in front of the iconic ACL backdrop. He then welcomed potent singer Angelica Garcia for another combo, starting with the opulent “Puedes Decir De Mi,” from the catalog of Cuban superstar La Lupe that earned a wave of applause, and ending with the sweeping, sensual original song “Ídolo.” Subbing for the absent Gabriel Garzón-Montano and carrying a colorful parasol, Mexico-to-Austin vocalist and Jumbo frontman Clemente Castillo joined the band for “El Paraguas,” an acid-tinged ballad in waltz time with a dynamic Quesada guitar solo. Explaining the concept of the album, Quesada welcomed to the stage Argentinian singer and Thievery Corporation associate Natalia Clavier, the first singer to grasp Quesada’s concept by recording “Esclavo y Amo,” a drama-filled 1975 hit from Pervuian/Mexican band Los Pasteles Verdes. She also performed the sprightly, synth-frosted, rock-accented tune “¡Adios!,” which she previously recorded with another of Quesada’s projects, the Echocentrics. Rising young Guatemelan singer Tita then came on to perform the sentimental, seductive “El Muchaco De Los Ojos Tristes,” a 1982 hit from Spanish singer Jeanette.
Quesada closed the show with a back-to-back dose of star power, as vocalist iLe – former frontwoman of Puerto Rican powerhouse Calle 13 and sister of ACL veteran Residente – took the stage for a stirring take on Cuban singer and queen of bolero Olga Guillot’s 1967 hit ballad “Bravo,” to huge audience reaction. She and the band closed the show with the lively Quesada/iLe original “Mentiras Con Cariño,” the opening cut of Boleros Psicodélicos, on which Ramos returned to add her emotional violin soloing. As a coda, Quesada introduced the band and the singers, leading them all in a final bow. It was an incredible show, one not likely to happen again anytime soon, and we can’t wait for you to see it when it airs early next year on your local PBS station as part of our Season 48.
Adrian Quesada brings his Boleros Psicodélicos to Austin City Limits on Oct. 9, 2022. Photos by Scott Newton.