An Evening with Lila Downs at the House of Blues in Las Vegas

While many people hunkered down avoiding black cats, ladders and broken mirrors on the night of Friday the 13th, a small group of about a thousand people braved the odds and were rewarded with a wonderful night of music at the House of Blues in Las Vegas.

From my seat at one of the tables close to the stage, I had the perfect perch from which to not only see the show on stage unimpeded, but also to experience the feel of this wonderfully designed showroom.

There, backed by a seven piece band, and a great multimedia program, Grammy award winning Mexican born singer Lila Downs thrilled the audience with her unique interpretations of the heart, soul, and unique battles of what is means to be from Mexico. Drawing largely from her most recent album, Pecados y Milagros [Sins and Miracles], Downs nearly brought the house down with her first number, Mezcalito, her homage to mezcal, the popular spirit made all over her home state of Oaxaca.Where Mezcalito was spirited, her next number, Tu Carcel, written my Marco Antonio Solis, was plaintive.  More of an angry wail to an unfaithful boyfriend, you could hear the conviction in Downs’ voice as she sang the warning that the adventure the lover was seeking would soon be his prison.  It drew the entire crowd together as almost everyone in the audience of about 1000 people in this intimate setting was right there with her,singing along and effectively giving her a huge backup chorus.And from there we were off as Downs mixed in a few surprises like Minimum Wage and Los Pollos with her more recent material that has made her a star on the world music scene.  Percussion riffs made from dance steps, dancers from Morelos and even dueling accordions kept the show fresh, but the star was Downs.  Clad in a brightly colored outfit reminiscent of many a village in Oaxaca, she never seemed to tire and no one felt they were watching someone just going through the motions.

As we neared the end of the show, everyone knew what was coming when Downs put on the familiar apron of many a woman from her home town of Tlaxiaco, Oaxaca.  It was time to grind it with her Cumbia del Mole, one of her best known songs.  From there we were treated to Cruz de Olvido, a last minute set change and then, to end the show, a real treat, Paloma del Comalito.  What a finale to experience in person her pitch perfect falsetto filling the room and the appreciative response from the audience.As she walked off the stage, nobody moved waiting for her encore.  People were trying to figure out what it would be and many were sure it would be either Paloma Negra or Tacha.  And Downs did not disappoint as she included both in her return to the stage in what was a great wrap up to a wonderful night.There was one other star Friday night and that was the venue.  The intimacy of the House of Blues made it a perfect place for people to see a show like this.  With only the lower section open, there was a great critical mass of people, but it was not so crowded as to hinder the experience.  We also had some incredible service from our server Erika.  She really helped make the night enjoyable.

Perhaps the only negative of the night, and it was one that was highly ironic considering Downs’ opening number Mezcalito, was that the House of Blues does not stock, or sell mezcal.  We could get tequila, bourbon, champagne or almost any other spirit, but mezcal, the drink that animates the people of Downs’ homeland Oaxaca like no other, was not available.

If you get a chance, check out Lila Downs at one of her upcoming concerts and if one of those dates is in an intimate setting like the House of Blues, all the better, but get your mezcal first.

Future Concert Dates… September 21, San Diego – September 22, Los Angeles – September 29, Mexico City – October 4, Guanajuato, Leon, Mexico.

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