There's really nothing like a live flamenco performance. Conceivably, you could compare it to jazz, which also has a tendency to split open an old familiar melody and pull out something you never in a million years would have expected to find lurking there inside, but if, and only if, there were a lot of extra folks milling around -- someone keeping time on a hollow box, singers and dancers wearing extravagant polka dots and fringe and high-heeled tap shoes, and others who might be singers or dancers or musicians, or maybe just people clapping out tightly syncopated rhythms and shouting ¡Olé! as they wait for a bus. As your eyes adjust to the dim light, you start picking out a certain swarthy, probably familial resemblance, and watching for the subtle cues, or llamadas, tossed from dancer to musician to singer so that they all know, even if you still have no idea, that the pretty young things are fixing to pick the hearts they've trampled back up off of the floor, fold their fans, silence their castanets, and listen to their grandma or grandpa show them the true fury of a lover spurned. It's like finding yourself in the middle of a bullfight except that nobody actually gets killed.
And even if you're very familiar with the form, Estopa's eponymous flamenco-pop debut is going to catch you off guard. The winsome young brothers from Barcelona know their way around a minor key, and they've got that plaintive wail down, the vigorous strumming, the musical nods to bygone legends like José "El Camarón" Monje Cruz ; still, there's something playfully subversive going on here. Did the singer really just say that on account of the slit in your skirt, he crashed into a Seat Panda?
Why, yes, he did. Things can get a little dull on the assembly line, so back when David and Jose Muñoz were still soldering engines and molding fenders for the Seat Panda -- Spain's answer to the K-car -- they started writing songs about the lives they wished they had and playing them for an ever-widening group of friends and fans by night. "Look sharp! Put a spit shine on that machine!" a supervisor purportedly nagged, and even this suggestion made its way into their winning mix: an estopa is a cleaning rag.
You could guess the rest. A homemade demo made it into the hands of an influential agent at BMG International, and they became superstars. But you really can't get a sense of how infectious, intelligent, and innovative their music is until you give Estopa a listen. Sway and snake your arms above your head to "Tu Calorro." Snarl and take a drag on your cigarette like a gypsy Tom Waits to "Poquito a Poco." Feel your hips flirting with salsa as the boys recount an improbable dream involving a blonde and a casino in "Suma y Sigue," and howl like the junkyard dog you claim to be in "El del Medio de los Chichos." Unless you live in Spain it might be awhile before you take in on one of those live performances -- tour dates support the perception that the Muñoz brothers believe there's no place like home -- so you definitely don't want to miss this extraordinary first taste of what could well be your next favorite band. ¡Venga!