Radio Tarifa at the Isabel Bader Theatre, September 28. Tickets: $30. Attendance: 425. Rating: NNN
If you know that radio tarifamusical director and percussionist Faín Dueñas started on electric guitar after being seduced by Jimi Hendrix's psych-sizzle, it isn't that surprising to see a Fender Stratocaster leaning on an amplifier as part of the stage set-up at the Isabel Bader Theatre. Neither would a detour into flamenco-rock fusion be unexpected, considering the modernizing inclinations that came through on last year's Cruzando El Rio (World Circuit) disc, which had a troubling flirtation with keyboards.
It was the sight of hired guitarist Jorge Gomez and lute plucker Amir Hadad, along with shaded singer Benjamín Escoriza, strolling on stage like Miami Vice heavies in matching baggy black leather trousers that pushed the cheese-o-meter past the worrisome level.
The performance began pleasantly enough as Dueñas tapped out devilishly intricate rhythms on darbuka in conjunction with the bongo battery of Sebastian Rubio. But once Gomez dug into his widdly-widdly bit and frontman Escoriza followed note-for-note with air-guitar licks and a little rump shaking, Tarifa's Arabo-Andalusian cultural collisions suddenly became difficult to take seriously.
Despite Escoriza's flamboyant moves, the combination of the hypnotic bleat of Vincent Molino's tooting on the Egyptian argul and the lack of song-to-song tempo variation was having a lulling effect on the crowd, and a number of people began nodding off barely 30 minutes in.
Things really didn't catch fire until the encore. Perhaps as a reward for those who survived the tedious recital portion, Radio Tarifa cut loose with a blazing descarga-like getdown. Squeaking, squawking and pounding out a cacophonous din, they played easily the most exciting five minutes of the entire evening.