Tropa Magica, formerly known as Thee Commons is somewhat of a phenomenon that could only come out of Southern California, blending psychedelic, cumbia, and punk to make a sound that you have and haven’t heard before.
The East Los Angeles native brothers David and Rene Pacheco, the latter on drums and the former on lead guitar and lead vocals put on an amazing show at the Observatory on Saturday that encapsulated nostalgia, psychedelia, high-energy pits, and community all in one night.
People of all ages showed up to their second-to-last show of their 31 city tour, which is not uncommon for a show but there is something comforting about seeing older people and young people at a show for something so niche. It is also comforting to see Latinos at a concert to see Latinos play punk music. I know firsthand the feeling of being the only friend who listened to punk in the friend group and to see that there are more of us out there is very heartwarming.
The night opened up with DJ Nalgona Superstar, a Latina DJ who specializes in mixing cumbias with other Spanish music, who also played in between the two bands, playing music you would expect to hear at a Latino wedding or a quinceñera or your one-year-old cousin’s birthday party.
During her set, she did the smoothest transition from “Todo Lo Mejor” by Mi$$il to “El Paso Del Gigante” by Groupo Sonador. After she hopped off the decks Pijama Piyama (pronounced pee-hama peeyama), a psychedelic cumbia band from Phoenix, Arizona took the stage.
Their music was extremely hard not to dance to and by watching the six of them perform you could easily tell they were having the time of their lives on stage, the percussionists seemed to be having the most fun. After they closed their set and Dj Nalgona Superstar cranked up the energy and nostalgia, then after she wrapped up her final set Tropa Magica took the stage.
As they were setting up, drummer Rene Pacheco made a toast and took a sip of what looked like a beer. Once they were all set up they said hello and went straight into it their crashing guitars and David’s screaming vocals filled the constellation room.
Where Tropa Magica succeeds is in their ability to not only play cumbias with English and Spanish lyrics but their ability to shred and bring it back to smooth more traditional cumbias is immaculate. David has harsh and raspy screams but he is easily able to switch to smooth and calming singing that can almost lull you to sleep until the guitars and drums start crashing again. Another strong point the band has is the showmanship of their frontman and if you were to see Tropa Magica live you would agree David is a perfect example of what a frontman should be. Frontman theatrics seem to be a lost art these days however when you do see it it is almost always done right. It seems as if musical talent and theatrics run in the family because not only was Rene playing the drums with everything he had but at one point he left the drum set and took a drumstick and a cowbell into the pit.
The band played music from their catalog which included a cumbia cover of Nirvana’s Come as You Are which was also in Spanish then switched over to a few covers of rancheras, covering Nieves De Enero and Rinconcito En El Cielo.
For the majority of the show, there wasn’t a pit and it wouldn’t be far-fetched for one to assume that perhaps they were moving away from that type of style but we were reassured once they started playing Koopa-Cabras, a fan favorite which a play on Chupacabras and Koopa-Troopas from the Super Mario franchise, the cumbia pits opened up.
They ended their set with a cover of legendary Peruvian proto-punk band Los Saicos’ Demolicion, a song that appeared on Thee Commons’ Collection De Oro album and a song they usually play at their live shows.
Tropa Magica wrapped up the show by shredding and David throwing his guitar and catching it. I guess in a way Tropa Magica was right in their song Cohen’s Cumbia when they said “El mundo se acaba pero la cumbia no”.