Lila Downs’ spiritual journey at The Fillmore

Lila Downs w/Luz Elena Mendoza y Edna Vazquez

August 16, 2014

The Fillmore, San Francisco

2013 Grammy award-winning singer Lila Downs and her entourage took over The Fillmore in San Francisco on Saturday night with an evening of signature vocals, Mexican tradition, and indigenous beats.

Lila has been gracing us with her voice for over a decade, and people from all over the world know and love Lila Downs. However, here in the States, she unfortunately has not yet achieved household name status. You might know her best for her contribution in the 2002 film Frida, starring Salma Hayek. Regardless of Downs’ small role in the film, her voice rang through several haunting and emotional tracks. One in particular, “Burn it Blue,” was nominated for a Grammy that same year.

Overall, Downs’ music is a mix of traditional Mexican songs with indigenous cultural overtones, sprinkled with pop music.  She is one of the few artists who has recorded songs in some of the indigenous languages of Mexico.  She blurs the lines and delivers a wild and unexpected recipe bursting with surprising delight.

On stage, clad in pink and polka dots, Downs is youthful and effervescent on one song, a gruff flamenco dancer on others, and then a commanding, sacred saint holding the space for miracles to flourish. Her fans completely love her. Rarely is there silence, due to the crowd’s endless chanting of “I love you.” At one point in the show, a fan even started tossing rose petals onto the stage to show her love and gratitude.

One song that stood out on Saturday night was “Cucurrucucu Paloma,” originally sang by Lola Beltran in the 1950s. Downs does an amazing job and trumps Beltran with the incredible abilities of her voice.

In a total left turn from her signature sound, Downs performed a song in English, called “Minimum Wage,” about Mexican immigrants crossing the border into the U.S. A bare bones song with a bluesy edge, it addresses the conflicted feelings and tumultuous experiences one goes through to make just “Minimum Wage.”

One of her encores, “Paloma Negra,” previously performed by Lola Beltran and Chavela Vargas, was nothing short of a spiritual excavation. Downs sings this song with such heart and anguish, with an accompanied inquisitive flair, that the audience can feel her conflict from anywhere in the room.

Complete with a horn section, accordion players, and percussionists, Downs and her entourage deliver. This experience should not be missed! The tour runs through the end of August, with some select dates in October.  Also, be on the lookout for Downs’ visuals and sounds that will be created with the theater adaptation of the film/book Like Water For Chocolate.

The opener, Luz Elena Mendoza y Edna Vazquez, was an enchanting acoustic duo. Their lovely harmonies and sweet whistle solos made me feel footloose and carefree.

Setlist:

Mezcalito | Tu Carcel | Los Pollos | Tren del Cielo | La Martiniana | Patrick Madrina | Fallaste Corazon | Mano Negra | Cuando te Tocas Tu | Vamonos | Minimum Wage | Son de Difuntos | Cucurrucucu Paloma | Chocolates | Zapata se Queda | Cruz de Olvido | Paloma del Comalito

Encores:

Naila | Paloma Negra | Cumbia del Mole