Enjambre: A Backstage Look at the Music Swarm.
By David Espy.
I first met “El Compa” Jose Romero, the guitarist for the band Santohs after they played a gig at Harlow’s in Sacramento when they opened for one of the hottest bands coming out of Mexico, Margaritas Podridas. El Compa approached me after the show to ask if I got any pictures of their set, which I had. A few days would go by until I posted my photos of that night to my Instagram account @espy_vision. After seeing the photos, Santohs’ guitarist and lead singer Daniel Villegas sent me a message asking if he could use some of the photos, to which I agreed in exchange for a Santohs shirt. It would be another month or so when Dani would reach out to me again and ask if I’d be willing to photograph their show in San Francisco when they opened for the Mexican rock band Enjambre.
They called it an atmospheric river, and travel was deterred along the interstates in Northern California, and I understood why as I made my way on the 85-mile trek from Sacramento to the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco.
Traffic moved at a moderate rate while my heartbeat was pushing the red as cars were splashed by passing semis, and we tried to stay within the lines with gusting winds, and low visibility from the heavy rain coupled with the mist from the vehicles around you. I was listening to my playlist featuring songs from every band on the lineup for tonight’s show to try to get my mind off the conditions I faced.
I’d never been to the Great American Music Hall, and with the exception of hearing about it throughout the years and seeing pictures of the marque displaying the names of the upcoming shows, I knew nothing of it. But as I walked in, I was transported to another time. I entered the main doorway and noticed a curtain a short way in front of me that led to the venue floor. A warm glow peeked out to the right side of the curtain as it was not fully closed. As I approached, the majesty of the Great American Music Hall hit me as I pulled back the curtain to witness the warm glow of the lights, the painting on the walls, and, more importantly, the ornate architecture and design of the venue. Looking around, I immediately thought that this could be likened to a miniature Royal Albert Hall.
Jose “El Compa” Romero from Santohs (Picture: David Espy)
In the background, Santohs happened to just be starting their sound check, giving me my first opportunity to watch a group get ready for their evening performance. As the band started to leave the stage and head downstairs to their dressing room, I noticed a green sequined skirt worn by a red-headed woman who must have been with one of the other bands as she was moving around a guitar case among other things near the staff-only entrance, which led down to the green rooms.
Once finding Santohs’ green room, I officially introduced myself to the band as I’d only met El Compa for a brief moment at their last show and had communicated with Dani via text and phone call. Doors opened at 7 pm, and the band was scheduled to go on stage from 8:20-8:40 pm, so we got to know each other a bit before the show started.
Kate Ramsey and Ellie Stokes from Grooblen (Picture: David Espy)
I went to the photography pit with less than five minutes before Grooblen was to begin their set at 7:40 pm, and lo and behold, there was Ellie Stokes on stage wearing the glorious green sequined skirt in all its glory; the mystery red head was a mystery no more. To be honest, Santohs aside, I had not heard the music of any of the bands performing at the show prior to the setlist that I had prepared for my trip here, so I was really unaware of what to expect or what I was getting into when Grooblen went into the first chords of Jane Fonda of the Ship. I was first impressed with Ellie’s voice which gave me a Fiona Apple vibe, sorry Ellie if you’re tired of hearing that, and in keeping with that comparison the songs they played that evening reminded me of Fiona’s Fetch the Bolt Cutters album. The opening acts each had a strict 20-minute sets that limited them to about 5-6 songs, and my favorite was “R.E.M. Dog,” but I was surprised that Grooblen didn’t perform their most recent single “Tears” as it was dropped less than a week before the show.
Ellie Stokes from Grooblen (Picture: David Espy)
Santohs would be taking the stage next and opened up with a new song called, “Remember Me,” which has a sound that is obviously heavily influenced by The Cure, and probably tied for my favorite of the band’s songs. Dani is no stranger to performing in front of a crowd as his old band Diciembre Gris was well known in the area for many years, and he brings that stage presence with him to Santohs. The set consisted of the rest of their songs that you can find on your favorite streaming service, and the only “disappointment” of the evening was that El Compa didn’t come on stage wearing his luchador mask which with his long hair flowing beneath it made for a sight to see, when he would rock out in headbanging fashion until the mask came off and his hair took center stage. Santohs would end their night by performing their beautiful ballad “Ay Dolor” which brings to life a classical Mexican guitar style of play and sound which could easily have pulled at the heartstrings of your great-grandparents, as much as it does your own when you listen to it over and over again and became the perfect lead into the next band.
Valley Wolf (Picture: David Espy)
Valley Wolf would be the final opening act, whose dreamy Latin sounds would complement the Enjambre set. The band featured a lineup with plenty of big natural hair, and a trumpet player which was a great addition that I didn’t catch on the recorded versions of the songs. The music was solid, and the band was tight, but I was left a little wanting in the showmanship itself. That being said, their song “Corazon” is such a vibe, and the set itself would make for great music while you’re doing things around the house or cruising down the road to their next show. Valley Wolf’s set ended around 9:20 pm giving the crowd about 40 minutes until Enjambre was set to take the stage. The crowd had grown to its sold-out capacity by this point of the night as bodies slithered between each other in hopes of finding the best spot they could to watch the show.
Valley Wolf (Picture: David Espy)
I took a break hanging out downstairs until it was showtime and took my place in the photo pit near stage left to work my way to center stage, and stage right with each song given that we have a three-song limit in the pit.
Santohs at Great American Music Hall (Picture: David Espy)
The lights went down in the hall, and Enjambre’s instrumental song “Proximos Projimos” came over the loudspeakers. I watched the band walk onto the stage by the glow of their equipment and as they played the opening notes to “Argentum” the lights came on as they tore into the song. One would think that having a camera pointed at the action you would pick up on every detail of the show, but I find that to be the exact opposite in my case. While my mind works to find the best shots and angles, I don’t always retain other details in the moment.
Luis Humberto Navejas from Enjambre (Picture: David Espy)
Luis Humberto Navejas, Enjambre’s lead singer, put down his cherry red Gibson SG after “Argentum” ended and the first thing I immediately noticed after my mind had a second to process was that I found myself thinking Luis looks just like the infamous Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar, but instead of peddling cocaine, Luis sold us on his amazing showmanship. During the show, I likened Enjambre to a Mexican version of The Killers who I also happened to see live in San Francisco about a decade before.
Enjambre (Picture: David Espy)
Enjambre played close to an hour and a half set that included 24 songs and some of their greatest hits like “Mania Cardiaca”, “Ciencia de la Lluvia”, and “Dulce Soledad”. Through it all Luis captured the audience with his dance moves, his voice, and his natural ability to draw you in with his eyes and performance making you feel every song. The pull was so strong that twice during the show, members of the audience jumped the barricade and got on stage to hug Luis. The energy was non-stop as fans, staff, and the other performers of the evening gathered around to watch the show, but for me, there was nothing like the energy that Luis and the band drew from the crowd as they sang their 2019 single “Relámpago”.
The crowd echoed back the chorus and went wild when the band slowed the tempo to a stop and then came back full force to finish out the song. The band gave their fans their money’s worth from their opening song until they closed out the night with their song “Somos Ajenos” from their third album Enjambre Y Los Huéspedes Del Orbe.
Enjambre (Picture: David Espy)
After the show, I went down to the green room to say my goodbyes and thank yous to Santos and found the show promoter Guillermo Goyri, Director of Psyched! Radio to thank him for the opportunity to shoot the show as well. Hungry after a long night, I was lucky to be greeted by a Mexican hot dog vendor just outside the venue where I got myself a loaded hot dog with bacon, grilled onions, a jalapeño, and mayonnaise; it tasted like heaven. While the rain had subsided in San Francisco, once I got out of the city, the storm was still raging, making for poor driving conditions in 50+ mph winds and rain for the drive home, but I was electrified from the show, making it the perfect ending to the night. Since that show in San Francisco, Grooblen found themselves performing at the South by Southwest Festival (SXSW) this weekend and have also announced that new music will drop on March 31, 2023. Enjambre continued on their tour, which was highlighted by headlining the 2023 Vive Latino Festival in Mexico City, which included other bands such as the Red Hot Chili Peppers and the Black Crows.