Alverno Presents Zemog/El Gallo Bueno
“Should I get a pistola?” Abraham Gomez-Delgado asked the audience at Alverno’s Pittman Theater on Saturday night. A lively discussion followed, primarily in Spanish, from the stage. Then there’s a brief pause before Delgado concluded, “Maybe after this song you’ll want to buy two.”
The program proved this point with its blend of music and social consciousness, an enduring characteristic of the Alverno Presents series. Delgado’s New York Band, Zemog (Gomez backwards) El Gallo Bueno closed Alverno’s 50th Anniversary season.
Zemog first appeared in Milwaukee at Alverno’s Global Union 2007, and he was a crowd pleaser in Humboldt Park that fall. This Saturday’s show featured Delgado on vocals, guitars and congas; Alvara Benavides, bass; Jessica Lurie, flute and saxophone; Aaron Halva, Tres and accordion; and Pablo Bencid, drums and percussion. Two other voices joined the evening’s ensemble, one named Carlos who soloed on the congas by the audience’s request with resounding enthusiasm. However, Alverno Presents now omits using printed programs, and these surprise guests’ names were missing from the downloadable program.
The seven musicians engaged the audience for two hours without intermission. Their alternative/jazz/metal rock to a 21st century Puerto Rican rhythm that captivated the crowd. Delgado entertains with his stage presence and personable style while he masterfully plays the guitar or congas. One song was about a Puerto Rican Christmas, where seeing a Santa Claus outside his cultural context gives a nod to commercialism. He dedicated another to his Abuela (Grandmother), who raises chickens on the island and has a rooster that can inexplicably fly.Band members improvised solos that balanced precariously among genres. But then why bother trying to identify the sound? Capturing the emotion, mood and message of Zemog’s music heightens the pleasure.
Delagado reasons his grandmother’s spirituality allows her old rooster to fly. Zemog inhabits this faith, soaring with each minute that passes for an energizing and enlightening evening trip to Puerto Rico⎯or New York⎯or even somewhere in between.