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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Monday, April 15, 2024

Carin León is a cowboy on fire at TD Garden

The global Mexican artist’s Oct. 5 concert was a visual and aural spectacle.

Carin León

Mexican singer-songwriter Carin León is pictured Oct. 5.

A hulking man dressed in all black, adorned with a cowboy hat and bandana, towered over TD Garden as his black motorcycle rocketed through the desert, placing him face to face with a lion on LED video walls. In the real world, flames rhythmically shot into the air, lighting a 20-piece band of trumpets, trombones, baritones, clarinets, congos, bongos, banjos, a sousaphone, a steel pedal guitar, an accordion, drums and everything under the sun. Accompanied by raving screams, the man of the hour, Carin León, waltzed onto stage dripping with bravura and machismo.

Carin León
Courtesy Vibha Kamath

Stage at Carin León concert pictured Oct. 5.

Global Mexican artist León brought his gargantuan live show to TD Garden on Oct. 5 in support of his latest studio album, “Colmillo de Leche” (2023). Upon release, León became the only Latin and regional Mexican artist to reach the top 10 in global sales on Spotify. While his discography shows a cleaner, more produced sound, his live shows are a completely different beast. Visually and aurally, everything was cranked to the max. A towering cowboy hat floated above the stage. Fire periodically flickered, brilliantly reflecting off the meticulously polished horn instruments. If the visuals were not enough to impress, no recording could match the sound of León’s brass instruments shouting at full blast. What León delights in offering is one massive party that offers catharsis to every audience member. Even someone unfamiliar with regional Mexican music, or who does not know a word of Spanish, would be impressed by the scale of León’s presentation.

Musically, the horn section deserves the most praise. Despite the extreme volume and range of the three trumpets and three trombones, the instruments maintained perfect intonation and a large, crunchy timbre throughout. While normally functioning as background rhythm comping, the brilliance of the horns was highlighted on turnarounds between verses. Trombones went wild with frantic glissandos. The lead trumpet screamed into the stratosphere before returning to chordal playing. The overall cohesion of the large horn section on such demanding parts was nothing short of virtuosic.

Carin León sousaphonist
Courtesy Vibha Kamath

Sousaphonist for Carin León is pictured Oct. 5.

But the highlight of the horn section — and the MVP musician of the night — was the player of the sousaphone, a wearable tuba to be played while standing. He held down the bassline on every song for the entire night. Most of the band played background roles with brief moments coming to the forefront. The sousaphone, on the other hand, was a central part of every song and almost shared equal musical attention as León himself. While the role may seem simple and go unnoticed, being the bass and rhythmic drive while playing a brass instrument with a large, round sound for such a long concert is not an easy task. Most players’ chops would give out after only a few songs of such high-demand playing. But León’s sousaphonist never faltered, while also impressing during turnarounds with rapid double and triple tonguing. Even on the recording, the song “No Es Por Acá” (2023) demonstrates the central role of the sousaphone. The reality of being in the band for the star means that the musicians can never detract from León, and the horn players did a masterful job playing second to León’s singing. It is hard for a row of horns not to overpower a singer — but they managed, while still finding brief moments of individuality during turnarounds.

Naturally, León’s singing also proved a highlight of the concert. While he often held back for greater moments of drama, León’s ability to belt with a wide vibrato impressed. His stage presence was also electric, sauntering from side to side in his cowboy boots, somehow finding a way to keep all eyes on him despite the blazing eye-candy all around the stage.

Carin León

Stage at Carin León concert pictured Oct. 5.

It may seem odd that generally slower and more anguished songs about love are accompanied by such a carnival of showmanship and noise. That being said, the effect of León’s extravagant live show is the creation of a whole new world of enjoyment. His performance may be campy, but León’s decision to embrace the camp results in a simple effect: It’s just fun.

Going to his live show promises a wild ride with great horns and singing, even if his repetitive progressions are off-putting to the more musically-snobbish. Plus, who could not love a show where the sousaphone takes center stage?