Review: Rio de la Muerte

Surrounded by books and challenged by one growling beast of an air conditioning unit, Rio de la Muerte played guitar and sang songs for the folk at the Civic Media Center in Gainesville, Florida on Tuesday night.

The Civic Media Center (CMC for short) is “a reading room and library for alternative and non-corporate press, as well as a community activism center,” located in the outer ring of downtown Gainesville. It’s a great place to watch underground films, read up on current events and conspiracies, and also, from time to time, take in an intimate show. There is no bar to speak of, but the CMC does have a healthy BYOB policy, and most patrons show up with a six pack or oil can to sip on.

The ceiling is high, making for a lot of pensive air, and the chairs in the big, rectangular room are set up in a “town meeting” kind o’ fashion. It’s not  the perfect setting for a man and his guitar (the loud AC and bright, library lights kill it a bit), but it’s damned intimate, and Rio de la Muerte capitalized on that intimacy.

He began with a little picking on his strum stick, starting off slow and then speeding up to a dexterous finale.

With the scene set, and the attention of the audience undivided, Rio played eight more songs, all on his acoustic guitar. He prefaced most of these with a bit of background story, in a deliberate, calculating fashion, and it added pounds of pleasure to the experience. There is something about the way the fellow breaks down his songs – he talks about them as if they are living things, constantly changing, evolving even, and this gave his set the air of an autographed, limited edition, one-time only experience. “Gambling Man” is a great example.

Rio then played a song that he introduced as being “more normal;” “normal” meaning a song about love and traveling, versus magic, death metal bands and nuclear war (we’ll get to that one in a minute). It’s called “Let Go, Let’s Grow,” and though I liked it just as much as Rio’s other songs, I hated the fact that he felt he had to introduce it as a “more normal song.” Are people really that averse to eclectic subject matters in their music?

Another highlight of Rio’s set was a song about people living in a post-apocalyptic world, where the air is too poisoned to breathe, called “I Just Want To Breathe Without Machines.” Of course, before strumming a single note, Rio spun the tale behind the song, which was so insanely detailed and dense that it could be made into a book. Unfortunately, I neglected to record this little gem of storytelling (something I am still kicking myself over), but we can enjoy the song itself, which is, as my Grandpa might have said, “damned tootin’.” Just pretend it’s a David Lynch film (as David Lynch is notorious for including no special features, production notes or background of any kind on his DVDs. He likes the film to speak for itself, don’t you know…)  Now that’s a great song. Just imagine the music video that could be made of it, yeah?
It sure did serve as a smashing capstone to an intimate night of music at the Civic Media Center. Before Tuesday, I had no idea who  Rio de la Muerte was, but I am beyond glad that I found out. There was a completely different artist listed on for that night, a fellow named Josh Lederman, who, as far as I know, never showed up.
I am not complaining in the least, however. Rio de la Muerte was a revelation.

– Matt Lehtola


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