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Live & Local

Live & Local: Ernest Gonzales

Photo: Erik Gustafson, License: N/A

Erik Gustafson

Ernest Gonzales last week, at a theater near you.

Ernest Gonzales
Wed, Jan 18
Alamo Drafthouse Park North

How do you make headphone music into an interesting live experience? Ernest Gonzales (aka Mexicans with Guns) seems to have considered this at length before staging the release show for his latest album, Natural Traits. His solution — to rent out a theater at the Alamo Drafthouse Park North — was an especially shrewd one, allowing for the kind of sit-down, all-immersive experience that his chosen style of ambient electronica simply cannot receive at a traditional club. By the time he started, the place was almost packed.

After opening sets by Merykid and DJs Aaron Peña and Nick Ruiz, Gonzales' long-time pal and District 1 Councilman Diego Bernal offered some warm words before inviting Gonzales to the mixer. From the opening beats of "The Prudence of Evolution," Natural Traits opener, it was clear that the decision to release under his own name rather than the more well known Mexicans with Guns handle was a strictly stylistic choice. Stripped of the more overt Mexican influences that characterize his MWG output, Natural Traits is steeped in traditional electronica sounds — four-on-the-floor beats, swirling synths — with Gonzales adding personal touches in the form of guitar overdubs and other analog instrumentation. It's a patient release, with several tracks slowly burning to understated crescendos, and most never peaking at all in the traditional sense. No traditional club setting could have demanded the sort of attention of listeners that music this moody, detailed, and un-flashy demands. Supplemented by custom visuals featuring appropriately trippy footage — blooming mushrooms, shifting fractals, slow-motion T. rexes — the experience was even more immersive, with the audience responding in kind with the sort of sustained attention one only sees now at, well, movie theaters.

Roughly 40 minutes later, Natural Traits concluded, the audience slow to shake off a palpable feeling of hypnosis (helped along in no small part by Gonzales' expert live mixing, which kept the transitions between pieces seamless). After a warm reception, Gonzales offered thanks and hopeful hints that more theater shows would follow. If there was any disappointment, it was that Gonzales and crew were unable to utilize the theater's sound system; I can only imagine how this thing would have sounded with the full surround sound.

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