Charly García

El Estadio Vélez 23.10.09: El Concierto Subacuático

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After a decade or so spent in a whirlwind of addictions and scandals, Argentine rock icon Charly García seemed to have reached his nadir around mid-2008 when he was committed to a psychiatric clinic due to severe physical and mental deterioration. After treatment, García retired to a friend's country house where he spent several months in uncertain recovery. Miraculously, by mid-2009 a "back from the dead" tour was set in motion, with dates in Perú and Chile as a warm-up for an epic show at Velez Sarfield Stadium in Buenos Aires scheduled for October 23rd, the day of García's 58th birthday. Unfortunately, the elaborated mise en scène that featured floating acrobats and a hanging piano had to be discarded due to torrential rain. Undeterred, García and his stellar band took the stage in front of some 35,000 absolutely drenched raving fans, put on a brave face, forgot about fancy props, and went about the only sensible answer in light of the circumstances: rock the joint old-style, to Antarctica and back. In retrospect, nothing could have suited the celebration better than this apocalyptic setting. True, García's voice was the first thing to go when he began his seemingly never-ending descent to hell, but his hoarse shouting (which actually improves as the show goes along) fits perfectly an unassailable repertoire that included many of García's most funky and furious punk-like, moments -- including half of 1984's seminal Piano Bar, widely considered one of the two or three greatest Argentine rock albums of all time. Needless to say, huge credit must go to García's bulldozer of a band, the trio of Chileans Kiushe Hayashida, Carlos González, and Antonio Silva Peña, who have been with him since 2001, augmented by three illustrious veterans of Argentine rock such as Carlos García López, Hilda Lizarazu, and Fabián Von Quintiero, who used to accompany the big man during his creative heyday in the '80s as his musicians, and who remained staunchly by García's side during his long convalescence, as true friends.

The biggest revelation is, of course, García himself, not only alive but also happier and more focused than he has been in years, singing his guts out and rocking the piano -- this from a man who barely a year ago was an emaciated ghost unable to move or even talk, let alone stitch two coherent sentences together. But for one pretty good new song, García and his troops stick to the classics and do not stray too far away from the original arrangements, which were already fairly complex, as García has always been a peerless composer. They may play it safe, but they certainly play loud and hard: these people are on a mission to save one of rock en español greatest artists and evidently nothing will stand in their way. Many highly emotive moments are preserved in the DVD, such as García joking about having a waterproof band and performing the first underwater concert in history, and Luis Alberto Spinetta (the yin to García's yang in the pantheon of Argentine rock legends) joining for a rousing version of "Rezo por Vos," the only song ever released from their aborted 1985 collaboration. The real heroes of the story, however, may very well be the crowd that jumps and cheers for hours under a deluge, breaks into an impromptu rendition of "Happy Birthday," and generally acts as if possessed throughout the entire concert. Considering how hard their patience has been tested by García's erratic stage behavior of the past decade, their faith is as mesmerizing as García's resurrection, and a testament to how profoundly García's extraordinary music has never ceased to inspire entire generations of grateful listeners.

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