the loud bassoon concert scene

Albita @ House of Blues, Chicago, USA
28 June 1998

Seven months after she last blew into town and delivered the single best concert I have ever seen (and that includes King Diamond), Albita returned to Chicago's House of Blues for an encore performance.

This time around, the crowd was considerably smaller (Sunday night) and much more American (not sure why that is), and the band was apparently rushed to compensate for a surprise appearance by Boyz II Men at midnight, but still Albita turned in a totally satisfying perfomance full of joyous music and humor.

With her tight eight-piece band, Albita is the James Brown of Cuban music, working the crowd and pushing the band with great flair. It is a mystery to me why there were not 10,000 people there to see her, and why the mainstream success that is given to groups like Ry Cooder's Buena Vista Social Club and Jesus Alemany's Cubanismo has eluded Albita.

Apparently Cuban music purists consider Albita "too pop," but she consistently makes better albums and puts on better shows than the "real deals" ever do. Simply put, I don't think there is a better performer of any style of music on the planet.

This show had it all – crowd participation, lots of dancing, wild solos, Albita's vocal impression of Tito Puente's timbale style, singalongs, medleys, wardrobe changes … the only thing missing was clog dancing (which was utilized at the last show).

My only problem was that I don't speak very much non-guttermouth Spanish and therefore didn't understand most of the stage patter, which was hilarious even despite the language barrier. My miserable lack of lingual fluency backfired on me in a big way as I was chosen – twice – to do a one-on-one call-and-response with Albita, where I was supposed to repeat the line Albita was singing.

The first time up, I simply went "Uhhh," much to the delight of the crowd, and Albita picked on me again later for a rap-like segment that I blew with similar lack of sophistication.

This time, at least, I had the wherewithal to say "No comprendo" in a comical voice, so she let me off the hook with a high-five. Later, she blew me a kiss to let me know all was well. And while I was slightly mortified to feel I'd disappointed perhaps my very favorite performer, I realize now that the whole joke was that I wouldn't be able to do it.

Still, I'd have preferred more outright flirtation and less humiliation. But I'd rather be humiliated by Albita than fisted by Ringo Starr.

The band was kickin' – drums, two percussionists, flute, guitar, keyboards, trumpet and trombone &3150; everyone playing percussion whenever they weren't playing their primary instrument or singing. I've never seen a better, tighter band.

Matchbox 20 should go see Albita, maybe THAT would make them hang it up. At any rate, I hope Matchbox 20 goes away very soon. Anything to clear the charts for Albita's eternal domination.

Albita and the band turned out about 15 tunes for a highly appreciative audience, which called them back for two encores. I snagged Albita's set list after the show and realized that they had improvised several of the songs on audience requests.

What a show, more like a revue! Most of the songs were done in extended performances with lots of room for solos (including a drums vs. congas duel and a flute vs. guitar duel).

The regular set closed with "El Chico Chevere" which almost burned my ass off, it was such hot salsa, and the last encore was an Albitized version of "Guantanamera." Made me want to sail down to Havana and party with Fidel and the gang.

If you ever get the opportunity to see Albita live, do not delay, line up immediately. She is, as they say, da bomb.

Review by Christian Boil