OZOMATLI at Lee's Palace, November 15. Tickets: $12. Attendance: 450. Rating: NNNN
after clanging from the frontdoor to the stage through the crowd like some kind of barrio marching band, Ozomatli wasted little time getting to the point."How many of y'all have never heard of Ozomatli before?" MC Kanetic Source shouted between salsa stompers. Up went close to a hundred hands.
Ozomatli shows are real word-of-mouth events. Yet despite falling in the cracks between every marketable genre and getting no play on television or radio, the nine-piece Los Angeles salsa/hiphop orquesta can still fill a club like Lee's Palace on the strength of their live shows.
Ozomatli's show on Thursday -- rescheduled from September 13 for obvious reasons -- was all about energy. A two-piece horn section kept things hot during Latin jams like Pa Lante and Como Ves, while live wire MC Kanetic Source made up for his awkward rhymes by acting as hype man, leaping around on top of speakers and making sure that the beat never really stopped.
There was little of the ragged eclecticism of past Ozomatli shows. Perhaps realizing that a little less works just fine, the crew have refined their sound down from a dozen different styles to just a few, with the set split between rootsy salsa breakdowns featuring stirring vocals by Asdru Sierra and neck-snapping hiphop cuts, reduced from their hectic recorded versions into simple, street-friendly jams.
The songs have gotten stronger, but it's the tightness of the band that's the real kicker. Ozomatli play with immense conviction, almost willing the audience to follow along with them, and after almost non-stop touring the onstage interaction between a DJ cutting up James Brown and Raul Pacheco's brittle tres strumming is stunning.
Judging by the pockets of slowly grinding salsa dancers at the back of the club, Ozomatli are definitely onto something.