Martes, I’m in love. If you haven’t heard of Chilean-born, Los Angeles-based musician Alex Anwandter, that’s fine, however, consider yourself artistically deprived. He’s an adept songwriter with years of experience as the frontman for Teleradio Donoso, an indie-pop outfit that gained rapid success in South America before they separated in 2009.
Tuesday night at the Constellation Room, Anwandter gave a jewel of a performance, alongside they-should-be-more-famous opener Kitten. Observation #1: You should get out more on a Tuesday night. Observation #2: LiveNation should continue letting good booking agents do their thing.
Anwandter has been steadily building his reputation around the danceable ballads and progressive rock that serve as a sonic and visual framework for songs that cut at the heart of human experience. He transitions between personal and collective narrative with ease.
Behind his gentle demeanor and fun melodies lie a fierce defender of the right of Latinos (and not just the “white-passing” kind) as he’s referred to himself in a previous interview, but the Latinx, the queer, the indigenous, the mestizo, the black, the forgotten, the oppressed.
His lushly composed, Latinoamericana released late last year, although rhythmic and club-worthy, is rich with cutting lyrics. A particular strength is his ability to channel the frustration, fear and anger from another’s point-of-view. From the disco-tinged single “Locura” told from a female perspective: Eh Mama/Me quiere matar/El mundo se va a la mierda/Y no hecho nada. Translation: Eh Mama/I want to kill myself/The world is going to shit/And I can’t do nothing.
The smoothness of the Spanish language makes it easy to tuck jarring dark thoughts into danceable melodies, like messages sent from a dystopian disco. But sometimes, he can drive it straight home. In 2016, he gave a heart-rending performance of “Manifiesto” from the album Amigo at the Latin Grammys, where he was nominated in the Best New Artist and Short Form Video categories.
He’s super smart and a student of history. Catching up with him over the phone before Tuesday night’s show, we discussed, among other things, the normalization and capitalization of Pride coexisting alongside a homophobic vice president, the rise of the alt-right not only here with Trump but within South America with Brazil’s Bolsonaro, and the rapid gentrification of Los Angeles.
Anwandter is also a filmmaker/music video director and along with a new album, he is working on a story he hopes to film and release in the near future. “I’m into social melodramas,” he says with a slight laugh. “It’s about how violence is generated in people, How someone arrives to violence and all the prejudices and issues that conform violence.”
And these contrasts extend into Latin culture, he tells me. “One thing [with] people, I rarely mention when I get asked about the Latin Grammys thing [is] right after I performed like a super-gay song, they were giving the Best Christian Album award, which is so weird to me and it speaks about, you know, my place in the whole thing …”
Anwandter deserves more attention on this side of the Americas. It seems as if that’s happening bit by bit. Irving Angeles drove from Westwood to catch the artist on his North American club tour. He first heard of the artist from the Remezcla Podcast. “He sings a lot about topics affecting today,” the 23-year-old says. “Like he talks about the wall, he talks about gay issues, how the church has played a role in that, how the government has played a role in oppressing, issues that affect the LGBT community.”
His place, as he proved on Tuesday night in Santa Ana, is ambassador of some of America we like to forget or that we never knew was there. It’s into the mind of the Central American teenage girl locked up in a detention facility, who perhaps, despite her misery, would like to dance. What would she listen to?
Also worth more buzz is the immensely fun band Kitten, which opened for Anwandter. They’ve been around for a bit under different lineups and their infectious rock anthems call to mind a harder rocking Paramore. They were dazzling to watch. Lead singer Chloe Chaidez is an enigmatic mixture of modern dance choreographer Martha Graham with the stage presence of an early Gwen Stefani. You should have been there.
Catch Alex Anwandter on the rest of his U.S. July shows:
7/11 at Slim’s in San Francisco
7/12 at Beat Kitchen in Chicago
7/13 at The Poisson Rouge in New York