By: Jim Welte
Federico Aubele :: 09.22.08 :: The Independent :: San Francisco, CA
The widely hailed taste-making talents of Thievery Corporation's Eric Hilton and Rob Garza currently have one hell of a traveling validation. Argentinean DJ turned songwriter Federico Aubele has been touring the U.S. in support of Panamericana, which came out on Hilton and Garza's Eighteenth Street Lounge (ESL) label in 2007. Joined by a three-piece band, as well as his backup singer, melodica whiz and wife, Natalia Clavier, Aubele has managed to both expand on the dubby, "outernational" sound of his bosses and also dive deeper into songwriting than any of his labelmates.
Most impressively, the twin peaks of Aubele's mesmerizing 80-minute set at The Independent came when his band left the stage and he eschewed effects or programmed beats, commanding the stage with just his guitar and voice.
Clavier kicked off the night with a short set alongside the bass-keys-drums trio that would later back Aubele. Drawing from her ESL debut, Nectar, which was released in June, Clavier showed off a voice for the ages. The tracks were dubby and languid, with Clavier playing a mean melodica on several selections, including the standout, "Azul." She also dropped scat vocals, proclaiming her worship of the vocal jazz legend Sarah Vaughn in the process.
As Aubele would show later, Clavier brought much more to the table than just down-tempo grooves and dreamy melodies. She also displayed quirkiness that is often missing from the glossy lounge-tronica that spawned from the likes of Thievery and Kruder and Dorfmeister. In explaining the meaning behind her song "Mi Mentira," Clavier made a case for playing make-believe on occasion. "Sometimes you lie, not because you are a bad person but because you are creative and just like to make things up - as long as your intentions are good," she said.
Almost immediately after Aubele and company took the stage, the addition of his expressive, fluid guitar work added incredible depth to the melodies, which relied entirely on piano and organ in Clavier's set. The husband-and-wife vocals were a perfect complement to one another on "Tan Dificil," with Clavier floating high above Aubele's baritone.
A few songs later, the band and Clavier departed, and Aubele played the opening notes to "Esta Noche," a song inspired by the pre-dawn hours in Buenos Aires, often the time Aubele would be coming home from the club after a DJ set, with "the streetlights reflecting off the wet pavement," a moment that has inspired compositions by the legendary tango composer Astor Piazzolla. Quite frankly, it takes cajones to even mention "El Gran Astor," but Aubele was justified. Instead of the rich album version of "Esta Noche" with the Columbian singer Vernie Varela singing lead vocals, Aubele dove in alone, transforming the song from groovy to gripping.
He would do so again during the encore with "Fantasmas," a previously unreleased song Aubele wrote while he was living in Barcelona amidst a time in which he was moving around so much that he didn't feel like he belonged anywhere. He confronted those ghosts, realizing that when "we understand what they're all about then they vanish."
Despite the presence of the same players and largely the same sound in the opening and headlining sets, Aubele and Clavier proved able to give the night both depth and range, and they did so with something often lacking in the down-tempo and electronic scenes: songwriting. Hilton and Garza should be proud.
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