By John DeFore
Two years ago, Austin's Grupo Fantasma was the object of hot interest from major labels south of the border, and the band had good reason to take that interest seriously. Without a label's financial support, how the hell was a 10-piece band supposed to tour? And without touring, how would they survive?
Well, they survived without selling their souls to a major label. Not only did they hit the road, they added two more members to make an even dozen. They sold 7,000 copies of their self-released debut just from the stage of their shows, and who knows how many more through hometown juggernaut Waterloo Records.
Now they're unleashing Movimiento Popular, a sophomore disc that, in keeping with its name, was produced by the band - despite production offers from Mexican hot shots like Control Machete's Toy Hernandez. And danged if it doesn't sound every bit as polished (in a good way) as the best stuff pouring out of expensive studios and onto thumping pick-up truck stereos these days.
The record is less freaky than observers might have guessed two years ago. The fellas have synthesized their diverse influences so thoroughly that it really sounds all of a border-radio piece. Only toward the record's end does it take exciting little detours: "Vacilon" has metal undertones; "Ya No Puedo" starts with a funky '70s groove and surprises the listener with multitracked female voices (that track's Anna Rodriguez is the only woman on the disc); and "Sukulenta" features DJ Baby G (also a guest on the last disc), whose turntable antics fit in organically rather than standing out as hipster idiosyncrasy.
And label support be damned, el Grupo is hitting the road in a big way. Next month they launch a three-week tour that will take them to venues as far away as Ithaca, New York, and as prestigious as Washington, D.C.'s Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. And on Thursday, March 25, they'll be in San Antonio at the Rox Room (9518 Console Drive; 593-0246). Catch them now before they do the unthinkable and keep a dozen men on the road year-round. •
By John DeFore