An accordion is not, by nature, an angry instrument. It’s tough enough to keep the wheezy thing from dressing a perfectly respectable track in leiderhosen and a feathered hat, but actual aggression seems out of the question. This may explain why few punk types pick up the squeezebox, and makes it all the more impressive that Piñata Protest’s Álvaro Salas is doing for the accordion what the Dropkick Murphys do for the bagpipes, playing what’s often considered an embarrassing grandpa-music relic with youthful angst and energy, expanding the punk-rock template beyond London and NYC.
“Campesino” forces Salas to hang with bassist Omar Nambo’s excited thump and guitarist Manuel Garcia’s savage power-chord shredding, and Salas pulls it off, working the bellows like he’s smelting an emergency iron lung. When the beat opens up for an instrumental break, it’s Salas who fingertaps first, leading Garcia in a blues-scale workout then pulling back to let the guitar (briefly) take over. Drummer J.J. Martinez deserves some serious credit for holding this together.
And Salas has mastered more than just the speed squeeze. “Jackeee” lets the accordion set the tempo, and despite the rhythm section’s hardcore bent, the song plays like a pissed-off sea shanty.
The guitar-accordion interplay is more pronounced on “Rocket,” which opens at punk pace with Salas’s high-speed accordion strains softening Garcia’s jarring guitar, resulting in what you might call amphetamine norteño. Salas, don’t forget, is shouting the breathless lyrics with oi! intensity, too; it’s no wonder most of these songs are only about two minutes long.
The crowd probably appreciates the breathing time between tunes. Tiny Saluté is stuffed with people, and only about a dozen older types watch from barstools. The rest — kids with pierced faces and adults in loosened ties — shove and jump and skank like it’s still 1997.
The band’s cover of “La Cucaracha” wouldn’t fit in any time period. Salas switches to pocket trumpet (which is practically inaudible tonight) for the famous refrain, but roars the verses in a death-metal monster voice. The crowd seems to get it though, and furiously moshes to a song some of their great-grandparents probably smoked out to. San Antonio might be the only place in the world the band could pull this off, and that’s probably the point.