Show Review: Helado Negro

by Jack Diablo

Venue: The Sinclair
Date: September 10, 2009
The building at 521 West Forsyth in downtown Jacksonville has been home to some bizarre business ventures in the past. From the general weirdness that was Voodoo Lounge to the downright perplexing Joann’s Chili Bordello, the walls in there have seen just about everything. So, it’s fitting that its newest incarnation, the Sinclair, be a place for unconventional entertainment and a potential breeding ground for the avant-garde.
While Helado Negro may not be as strange as a chili bordello, it is certainly a departure from what one may expect to see in a Jacksonville live music venue. The band is the project of Roberto Carlos Lange, a Brooklyn-based artist/musician with a giant Latin afro and an easygoing disposition. The son of Ecuadorian immigrants, Roberto grew up in Miami immersed in the confluence of sounds and beats that make up Latin music. From his parents’ traditional folk and Latin rock records to eighties hip-hop, music seems to have always been a part of his life, as is clearly demonstrated in the oeuvre of Helado Negro.
Before the band took the stage, the show was opened by Jason Ajemian, one of Helado Negro’s touring musicians. With only a double bass and no amplification to speak of, Jason coaxed the audience to the floor below the stage, politely asked for their attention, and then received it in full. While his request was polite, his music demanded it. For an instrument that is normally relegated to providing accompaniment for a melody, he made the beast sing, eliciting sounds far outside its usual range. The result was something between beat poetry and the Velvet Underground’s ‘The Black Angel’s Death Song’ had it been composed with bass instead of violin. In other words, intoxicating, impressive and innovative. The highlight for me was his cover of Lee Hazelwood’s ‘No Train to Stockholm,’ a hauntingly beautiful rendition to be sure.
Jason then joined Helado Negro as they took the stage. Despite Roberto having lost his voice prior to the show, the set was perfection. Laid back and jazzy with those infectious Latin beats, it was virtually impossible not to feel the groove and find yourself in a happier place. The rhythm and its myriad layers danced around in your brain while Roberto’s chill Spanish vocals washed away the travails of the day. You may not understand what he is saying but the message doesn’t seem to target the brain anyway, but rather the soul. Being there for this show didn’t feel like being in Jacksonville but more like a low-key Brooklyn warehouse where music lovers converge to hear something different and inspiring.
I, for one, left with a strong desire to experience some of Roberto’s other projects such as his more psychedelic group, Savath y Savalas, his My Brightest Diamond remixes and the kinetic sculpture installations he does with David Ellis. You will no doubt be hearing more from Roberto Carlos Lange in the future.