Faith Rewarded – Latin artist Javiera Mena wows in her U.S. debut

MenaChilean pop-sage Javiera Mena has been my queen ever since she released her video for “Siguiente Nivel,” featuring her dancing in a yellow T-Rex hoodie costume. “Where can I get one of those?” I thought, followed by, “I love her.”

I’ve found less-than-legal ways to get my hands on her music before it became more easily available to American fans, but I’d resigned to the fact that I’d probably never see her live. Mena doesn’t tour in the States.

At least, she hadn’t before this year’s South-By-Southwest music festival in Austin (SXSW).

When I found out she had a pair of modest showcase performances at the Austin-based festival as her debut U.S performances, I told my friends seeing her would be the deal-breaker. If I couldn’t see her, I wouldn’t even make the trip.

Now apparently when you attend SXSW performances you’re suppose to have things called “badges” or “wristbands,” which I didn’t have, but that didn’t matter. I was going to make this happen, credentials be damned!

Hours after arriving in Austin and taking in my first SXSW, my friends and I found ourselves recharging, physically and digitally, at an AT&T station inside the convention center. When I looked up I noticed we had sat next to one of my favorite Mexican-indie artists, Torreblanca. His mop of bleached curly hair was hard to miss as he sipped a Topo Chico and waited for his phone to charge. As he was about to leave he was very nice to take a photo with me, and even stayed to chat a bit.Deanna y Torreblanca

Knowing the two had collaborated in the past, I asked him if he planned to attend Mena’s show Saturday night. He didn’t seem to know about it and asked me for the venue. I told him I’d been informed by “someone on the internet” that if I got there early enough there was a chance I would be let in for a cover charge of $20+. He asked me if by chance I had a badge (those things again?!), and when I told him I didn’t he let out a heavy sigh. “Yeah, then they probably won’t let you in,” he said.

Unfazed, I prepared myself the next day by resting my legs as much as possible in preparation for the standing I would surely be doing during the showcase while I waited for Mena to take the stage.

Seriously, I don’t know if anyone’s told you, but SXSW is a lot of walking and standing in lines. Oh, and port-a-potties!

A full two hours before the showcase was to start I had navigated my way through the sea of green leprechauns and mini-top-hat-wearing girls on Sixth Street, and was waiting for doors. When 7 p.m. rolled around I was let in, and mass confusion followed. One venue employee said, “No, I was told we weren’t letting anyone in for a cover. Badges only.” But then a lady wearing an official SXSW volunteer shirt said, “Five dollars please.”

With a showcase lineup of 3 dudes and a Mullet, Sol Pereyra, Alex Anwandter, Muchachito Bombo Infierno, Javiera Mena and Vetusta Morla, that wasn’t even a dollar per performance. I was sold!

Finally at midnight, Mena took the tiny stage inside the intimate Memphis-themed restaurant venue adorned with Elvis memorabilia. By this point my knees felt like jelly, my feet probably looked like ginger root, and I was pretty sure I hadn’t felt my legs in a couple hours. But when Mena, wearing gold pants, a black hat and a diamond-shaped necklace that recalled her Mena album logo, started playing her keyboard inches in front of my face I only felt the music.

JavieraShe was everything you’d expect a woman wearing gold pants and platforms to be. She was disco, dancehall and pop with a techno beat and laser sound effects. Opening with “Primera Estrella” eased everyone into the right mood for her performance, as the crowd started to dance. The beat kept on building with her first single from Mena, “Hasta la Verdad,” which more people seemed to be familiar with as they mouthed along.

Proving she’s not at all one-dimensional she mellowed out with one of her slower ballads, “Sol de Invierno,” which featured guest keys and vocals by none other than Torreblanca.

Now, you can say maybe he knew he was going to play in the show all along, and was just trying to keep the element of surprise when he played coy with me the day before. Or you can subscribe to my thinking, which is that I made this collaboration possible by mentioning the show to him.

You’re welcome, audience!

The dancing picked back up with “El Amanecer,” which she wanted to dedicated to everyone who would be out till dawn, only she didn’t really know how to say that. “How you say in English?” she asked the crowd in the cutest broken English before deciding it didn’t really need a translation and continuing with the song.

For the crowd, it was all a blur of jumping, dancing, and singing along into her mic during “Luz de Piedra de Luna” and “Sufrir.” I know I lost it when those songs started. Honestly, at one point after a song I reached up and played her keyboard. She didn’t even mind; it was that kind of party. She dished out a smattering of high fives, took a swig of her Lone Star tallboy, and moved the show right along.

“Siguente Nivel” was most appropriate for her final song as she had managed to take the audience to the next level with her set. As she jumped off the stage and hauled ass up the stairs, her band played on. It was so sudden and a little confusing at first. For me, it was a whirlwind that was over much too quickly.

But the end of her set meant I was finally able to give my legs a rest as I sat down on the floor in the back of the venue. Desperately trying to get signal, I thrust my phone in the air only to catch a glimpse of Mena coming back downstairs to exit the venue. Even if it was past midnight, that was luck of the Irish right there.

I caught up to ask for a photo, and she was more than happy to oblige. “Can you take our picture?” she asked a passing figure as I looked up and realized it was Torreblanca.

Who needs a badge now, sir?

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One response to “Faith Rewarded – Latin artist Javiera Mena wows in her U.S. debut”

  1. Vanessa

    OKAY?!!!!!!!

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