Every time that I hear Tomi Lebrero’s music, whether it be live or at home, I get this strange sensation, the sensation of being in the presence of something special: pure talent. Obviously talent isn’t enough to make good music, meticulous teamwork and artistic maturity are essential components and Tomi Lebrero y Su Puchero Misterioso seem to bring it all together.
I have to admit that my analysis could be slightly biased because I identify strongly with his songs. After doing a little research I learned why. He’s porteño (practically, from San Isidro) who spent entire summers in the countryside in Buenos Aires province, a porteño who often feels like a stranger in his own city, a porteño that looks at the world around him knowing he has no root of his own, that everything around him is borrowed from the West. Tomi´s music surprises me, above all, for his acute observations of human nature and society as a whole. And his last album is a good example of that. He decided to name the album “Me Arrepiento de todo” (I regret everything), a title that is neither hypocritical nor sincere: it is totally and exaggeratedly human.
The album begins subtly, with four chords on a Criolla guitar and a voice that almost whispers the words, “Hey, how is everyone? I came for the festival, to sing.” Slowly his spectacular entourage of musicians, el Puchero Misterioso (the magical stew), begin to join him and that is when the first song “El Cantor de los Pueblos” begins to flower and come to life. Lebrero says that it was during a trip through Catamarca that he was inspired by the figure of Atahualpa Yupanqui to compose the song. Besides being an excellent guitarist and bandoneon player, he is a poet that paints the landscape of the Criollo universe, a landscape that is not identified by the place itself but by the conception of it, a confused Southern perspective, by porteños who identify themselves with their land but lack their own unique cultural roots. Belonging to a generation that can and does travel, one that is connected to any part of the world, we have become distinctly aware that we are the products of something strange that happened some time ago: mass influence from European culture that mixed with the native and created something particular.
A light wind followed by a subtle strumming introduces the second song, “Verde”, that develops a contagious and cheerful chorus that will bring a smile to your face and will quickly turn into laughter when you hear him sing phrases like “My girlfriend protests that I be more sensual.” The song combines a profound and illuminated minimalism with a genuine sense of humor that takes everything into consideration. In that sense, Lebrero can be categorized as being truly uncategorizable: he has no dogma when it comes to developing a musical style, an idea or a mood.
The third song comes on and I immediately want to get up on my feet and dance, it feels like a pop song from any random band. But be careful, it´s a trap! Rounding out around the second minute the song takes a 180 degree turn into a darker world, one that is irrational and sincere. That´s where you realize that this isn´t any random band. Watching them play live is hypnotic. Each musician plays a fundamental part in the harmony, allowing Tomi to express himself knowing that his ensemble is there to support him without an ounce of vanity. The double bass, for example, sat out on one of the songs. He closed his eyes and held on tightly to his instrument, moving along to the song as if it was the first time he´d ever heard it with an intensity that radiated throughout the room.
The fourth song brings back the humor that Tomi evokes in his live shows, bringing to mind the image of his band mate and backup singer who commands the stage with a sensual dance number. I was surprised that the show I went to last May (for the official presentation of the album) lacked the humor that I had seen the year before. I took along my sister for that second concert, and although she enjoyed the show she reprimanded me because the show wasn´t as funny as I had anticipated. Later I read that Lisandro Aristimuño, the Patagonian musician reminiscent of Nick Drake and Sufjan Stevens, helped with the artistic production of the album and apparently convinced Tomi to tone down the comedy and concentrate on the profound melancholy of his songs. Lisandro himself appeared himself in the next song “Noche en la Pampa” that transmits a thoughtful understanding of night in that infinite horizontal abyss that stretches over a large chunk of Argentina, my girlfriend couldn’t believe her eyes when she saw her two favorite artists together at the Café Vinilo.
“Choro de la Estación” is the urban counterpoint to “Pampa”, pointing out the historical tension between the province and the city. He paints an ironic portrait of Buenos Aires and the porteños who turn their back on the countryside in order to hug Europe. The humor portrait of the city last just a few minutes before returning to a vibrant, gloomy and nostalgic song titled “Mamani”. Mamani was his grandmother, Tomi explains before beginning his dark lullaby. “Re Loco Re Hippie” is another sincere parody about the world that surrounds him, reviving the tone of one of his most well-known song “Los Chicos del Cine Independiente”. Amongst many revelations, Tomi mentions his traditional education at the Colegio San Juan el Precursor, showing the traces of his Catholic repentance, before launching into another humorous track “Pericón de Hilda”, whose rhymes tell a fascinating story that doesn´t hide the absurdity of a society that lacks its own unique traditions. Its songs like these that demonstrate that Tomi is a curious observer, nurtured by his experience in the country, the city and the world, nurtured to make art, or better yet, to tell a story.
The album officially closes with “Dicen Adiós”, a romantic and existentialist ballad of a lover who is afraid of the end. As is love and life, everything must come to an end, and it seems to be the end of the album. But two bonus tracks make us forget about the tragedy of love with an adventure narrated by Tomi that begins with a simple, “We went to Liniers to take San Pedro.” With tireless insight and intelligent humor, he manages to encapsulate his spiritual quest. The journey ends with a bit of psychodelia, “San Pedro Careta”, a simple and ingenious ending that finishes with a bizarre electronic cumbia that mocks the snob he has often been called, mocking that pseudo-intellectuality that is, in the end, just a fad, and if anything can be said about Tomi Lebrero y el Puchero Misterioso, is that they are not.
Tomi Lebrero will be playing tomorrow (Thursday August 4th) at the CAFF, Sanchez de Bustamante 764 in Almagro at 9:30pm.