Over the Weekend: Ozomatli at the Ogden

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(Editor's note: The author is a moron and forgot his camera. The above video is basically what happened in the Ogden lobby).

Ozomatli with the Nathen Maxwell and the Original Bunny Gang Saturday, November 14, 2009 The Ogden Better Than: Whatever you did, unless whatever you did featured a thousand drunk people doing the Hokey Pokey.

Sweat: That's what you should be caked it by the time Ozomatli finally, mercifully lets go of your jiggling ass and sends you back out into the world. You should be covered in your own salty secretions, your calves should be sore, and your bar tab should be low, because when the hell were you going to break yourself away to get a refill?

That's the Ozo Experience. It rolled through town again on Saturday, and even dumping snow couldn't slow it down.

I arrived just in time for the opener, Bunny Gang, a roots-rocking foursome fronted by Flogging Molly bassist Nathen Maxwell. The band was technically sound -- its guitarist smoked some solos, actually -- and it was likable enough, but as a warm-up act for Ozo, the group was a little flat. Maxwell kept urging everyone to move, but it's the music that decides that, not the music maker, and the music in this case tended to drone repetitively, with Maxwell's talky, monotone voice struggling to fill the room. It was no coincidence that the only Bunny Gang song that fully engaged the crowd was its last -- which featured Ozo's Ulises Bella blazing through sax riffs.

A somewhat lengthy set change ensued -- Ozo brings a lot of toys -- and soon, the room was dark again, dark and smoky and sufficiently lubed. The seven members of Ozomatli busted straight into their typical mix of latin-funk-hip-hop-rock-etc, shuffling reliable party starters like "Cumbia de los Muertos" and "Saturday Night" with newer stuff, songs so new lead vocalist Asdru Sierra could be seen cribbing off a lyrics sheet taped to the stage floor.

Some other things I noticed while somewhat soberly watching Ozo operate, as the rest of the Ogden rubbed its sweaty body hair on me:

1. The group is exactly what would happen if you and all your best friends from high school or college -- whichever experience was more formative -- started a band, and that band happened to sound really fucking good. The members do silly dances and give each other shit and randomly throw clarinets to one another in the middle of the set, but they play with the precision of workaday studio musicians.

2. There is no "I" in Ozo: I've seen them four times now, and each time I walk away with the impression that a different member is the ring-leader. This time it was Sierra, last time it was guitarist Raúl 'El Bully' Pacheco, but it hardly matters, because it's obvious it's something they haven't though much about. Why should I?

3. I miss Chali 2na. Everyone misses Chali 2na. Not that the band's current MC, Justin 'El Niño' Porée, isn't legit. He is. He plays the role perfectly, lighting a fire under the crowd's sweaty asses when it's his turn at the mic, slinking into the percussion area when his services are less needed, and occasionally breaking into ludicrous dances when it makes sense to. But, still: It was Chali 2na. Damn that was cool.

I noticed all those things while shaking my ass on the Ogden's lower dance floor. I stopped noticing things when the Ozo Experience really started: Near the end of the show, the members, drums and horns and whistles in hand, climbed off the stage and into the crowd, and started a 25-minute conga line that wound its way up each level and into the lobby. On the way there they worked through their typical (and typically awesome) after-show arsenal: The Sesame Street theme, "Ole Ole," the "Hokey Pokey" and, eventually, "Tequila," which they played in the middle of the lobby as bassist Wil-Dog Abers stood on the bar and threw $25 T-shirts into the crowd. Eventually the guys stopped, fist-bumping their way back through the crowd and backstage. As always, they left a sea of sweat in their wake.

CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK Personal Bias: I'm a sucker from drum circles, and I always think that if I get close enough to Ozo's, I'll end up busting on a snare during "Ole Ole." It hasn't happened yet, but there's still time. By The Way: "Saturday Night" was the song I most often went to in my mid-'20s when I was getting ready to go out -- drinking Coronas in the shower, picking which of my two button-downs I would wear, and fantasizing about freak dancing with a stranger at an overpriced club. Classy, I know. Random Detail: It seems to me that Ozo would make a kick-ass house band. Is Craig Ferguson hiring?

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