Consider for a moment the nature of applause. Giving someone “a hand.” Fairly straightforward, right? You applaud someone or something to show approval, with vigor acting as a measure of enthusiasm (excepting of course the legendary slow clap, which dramatically inverts the vigor dynamic and belongs in the nonverbal communication hall of fame, in this humble Rhetoric and Communications minor’s opinion). Cultures all around the world do it. You can golf clap, fast clap, clap seriously, clap sarcastically, clap enthusiastically, clap dispassionately, clap at completely inappropriate times… the variations are many; but one thing unites all of these types of applause: they’re externally directed. A tool for communicating outwardly. Which is why there’s something just a little bit weird about theater audiences clapping after movies (it’s not like the director can hear it), and why there’s something more than a little bit awesome about Mariachi El Bronx’s set opening up for tUnE-yArDs at the Jefferson Theater in Charlottesville on June 5. I’ll never forget how Mariachi El Bronx rescued me from a pit of despair… with my own applause.
Though they got their start in punk, California-based Mariachi El Bronx are a big-ass, 8-piece, matching-outfit-wearing, matching-belt-buckle rockin’ mariachi band, with a lead singer who does not take kindly to tepid applause. At several points during their opening set, Matt Caughthran baited the audience, giving us a look that said, “C’mon, that’s all you got?!?” He’d immediately follow with that palms-up, inviting gesture that basketball players make when they’re trying to pump up the crowd after making a big shot, also known as the “Reverse Angels in the Outfield” , signaling that we needed to step up our applause. The confidence with which he executed this routine made it seem as though he just knew the group’s performance was worth a certain amount of adulation, and that we just needed a helping hand in getting there. It totally worked.
Somewhere around the fifth or sixth time he did this, I could feel the emotional funk that I’d been under lifting. (FINE — I’ll tell you why I was bummed out. God knows I don’t wanna be like that person you’re friends with on Facebook who blurts out vague declarations of personal turmoil, transparently fishing for follow-up questions. It was a first-world problem, OK? My laptop died.) The audacity he showed by demanding more and more applause made me more and more happy, and the next thing I knew, I was blissfully absorbed in upbeat, polyrhythmic, south-of-the-border serenades that, as the set neared its close, I hoped wouldn’t run out.
I’ll tell you one thing — no band on planet Earth could have put me in a better mood for tUnE-yArDs. OK, I’ll tell you one more thing — with Mariachi El Bronx in your headphones, there isn’t a workday slump or weekend chore that can’t be dragged kicking and screaming into the realm of blithe happiness. See what I mean below by sampling a few of their songs, the first of which you can buy on the second of their two eponymous records.