Speeding down the 1, past Dominican Hospital, next to the REI and Marshall’s parking lot, sits a tiny hut with string lights outlining its place on Commercial Way. If I wasn’t looking for it, there’s no way I would have noticed it, but we made it into the venue. The only moment of panic happened when it didn’t seem like I had a plus one and the bouncer let us in anyways (shout out to that guy). Walking in felt like entering a slightly more chill version of Surf City. I felt uncharacteristically young compared to the people around me. The crowd knew how to avoid the college crowd that had no cars and no reason to be on the eastside, and I could respect that. I was there to see La Misa Negra, a band out of Oakland, CA that has toured with the likes of Bomba Estereo, Antibalas, and Mon Laferte.
They were preceded by a very popular and well-loved local band, ¿Qiensave? from Salinas, whose sound and energy were so good that I thought they were the main act until they announced otherwise later in their set. I was quite literally having the time of my life. After ¿Qiensave?’s incredible performance of well-loved covers and less known but still danceable music, I knew La Misa would be able to top the energy. I was right; they absolutely blew me, and everyone there that night, out of the water.
According to their website, the band was founded by the accordionist, guitarist, and composer Marco Polo Santiago, and consists of Diana Trujillo (lead vocals), Justin Chin (tenor & baritone sax), Morgan Nilsen (tenor sax & clarinet), Craig Bravo (drums & percussion), Elena de Troya (percussion), and Paul Martin Sounder (upright bass & percussion). Their latest album was said to pull influence from heavy metal and mambo styles, all while staying true to their sound. Their mix of influences were highly apparent in their performance.
The seven-piece band came on with a bang. I had listened to a few of their songs before coming to the venue, but no amount of listening to a recording in my car could have prepared me for the blast that they gave almost immediately after picking up their instruments. Everyone around me picked up dancing in rhythm, coupled, in groups, or alone, in a fur coat and fedora, for one guy. The entire eclectic crowd were entranced by the music that was blasting from the group. There was a song that seemed to shake the entire building and forced everyone into a frenzy that only a band like this can do.
La Misa Negra were incredible performers. They pulled from punk rock, psychedelia, cumbia, and Afro-Latin influence, all rounded out by being highly musical and highly danceable. The vocalist was incredible, and the saxophone players brought the band a sound that was uniquely theirs, and what seemed to put them on the musical map. They could do slow jams, quick-step dance, and punk rock with two saxophones and a trumpet. I wished the night would never end. Unfortunately, it did, but not before an encore. The entire crowd yelled and screamed and grito-ed, and La Misa Negra delivered, for the last time that night.
I left the venue with my ears ringing, my legs feeling like I had run about two miles, completely exhausted. My step counter had racked up 14,000 steps from the back and forth stepping I had done all night (no lie). La Misa Negra rules, and if you ever need music to dance to without thinking or watching the passage of time, put on their red album, and watch what happens.