I knew it was going to be a different kind of night when the heavy at the door started scrutinizing my press pass. It was from last year, true, but I’ve been accredited here for a decade plus and I didn’t have my new credential through no fault of my own.
‘This is you?’ he asked, in a not-too-friendly rumble.
I kept silent as he took a closer look. Here we go, I thought.
‘This isn’t you,’ he stated with some authority. ‘This is a mulata.’
I had to laugh. I don’t know what kind of caramel-colored glasses he was wearing or what hooch he was swilling, but I wanted some: a mulata? Me? These are words I never imagined applied to this white-like-leche, be-freckled chick. Luckily, our discussion was truncated by a group of kids sauntering up brandishing CUCs. He palmed the bills and waved us in to one of my all-time favorite Havana venues: El Salon Rosado de la Tropical.
I have very few natural talents, but arriving precisely as the party starts to heat up and sensing when the pendulum is about to swing the other way – my signal to kiss and split – are probably my most utilized and useful. So it was for The Dead Daisies, the historic concert held this past weekend. I walked through the doors just as opening act David Blanco (who I’ve seen plenty) was finishing his set. I took a short cut to the dance floor, ran into friends, then some more, then more still. We danced ourselves as close to the stage as safety permitted, but the place was packed – frikis had begun arriving as early as 11am, from as far away as Camagüey, to hear members of their favorite bands (The Stones; Guns N Roses; Ozzy Osbourne; Motley Crüe) rock the Cuban capital.
Already the Salon Rosado was puddled with vomit (not mine, don’t let the photo fool you).
Nothing new or novel there: knowing your ingestion limit, when and how to mix what, how to pace yourself – this is a tricky equation which many Cuban rockers have yet to get. I’m talking about the younger crowd mostly, but we had to scurry out of the way as security physically restrained and removed a middle-aged dude, fairly drooling, with eyes bulging rabidly. Vomit, condom ‘balloons’ batted airborne with verve, and bottles produced from backpacks – these are de riguer at whatever big Cuban concert and were in abundant evidence this Saturday night.
What set this concert and this group apart was the sheer power, pedigree and talent of the band, combined with the setting: the Salon Rosado is that rare combination of big enough to pack in a few thousand high-energy fans, while retaining the intimacy of a much smaller gig. It’s also a multi-tiered, open-air venue with major space given over to the floor, which means lots of room to dance and mosh and good bird’s eye views, for voyeur rock and rollers. As for The Dead Daisies: we’ve had some big bands blow through Havana during my tenure, including Audioslave, Sepultura, Kool and the Gang and Calle 13; but these concerts are always held in the ‘Protestódromo’ – the seaside, make-shift area designed for massive protests and rallies (it was built during the Elián trauma) and adapted for concerts more recently. I’ve had tons of fun at these shows, but as you may imagine: the audio is shitty. Crashing surf and whipping wind are not conducive to music appreciation. It’s also worth keeping in mind that the last big concert like this was in 2010.
So we were due.
I hate to admit it, but I didn’t recognize the names of any of the musicians (though I reserve the right to invoke the ‘stuck in Cuba’ defense). I had never heard of the band either and was skeptical – what kind of name was Dead Daisies anyway? Flowers, dead or alive, don’t evoke screaming, pulsating, orgasmic rock n roll, not in my mind and body anyway (no disrespect to Guns N Roses and especially Slash, who rocks it real, but Axl’s whiny voice has always rubbed me in all the wrong ways).
But damn, did The Dead Daisies come through. I’m a guitar-loving kinda gal and when I read that Richard Fortus (Guns N Roses) counted John McLaughlin, Jeff Beck, and Robert Fripp among his preferred players, I knew things would be just fine. Just how fine I didn’t realize until the first notes rung out from Fortus’ drop-dead gorgeous Gibson over the sea of banging heads. There is perhaps nothing more glorious than a Cuban crowd united by the joy, energy and electricity of music well made, played from the heart. And so it was.
Meanwhile, any band with Dead in its name evokes that other, more (in)famous band synonymous with long sets peppered with covers and standards, enthusiastic mind-altering substance use, and drum solos; I was pretty shocked to experience similarities at the Salon Rosado. My olfactory sense alerted me to someone nearby enjoying the mighty herb and the pierced, tattooed guy on all fours puking violently while simultaneously smoking a cigarette argued for abuse rather than just use (though it was an impressive example of multi-tasking). But when Brian Tichy (from Ozzy’s band) ripped a 15-minute drum solo, the entire crowd was transported to an alternate reality. Holy shit. This guy is a monster. I’m not much for tricks with sticks, but he got admirable air between trills and when he started beating the skins with his hands? We went wild. Well done man, well done.
An indisputable highlight was The Dead Daisies’ version of Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door (yet another example that anyone covering a Dylan tune does it better than Bob), where the crowd of 3000-plus needed no encouragement to sing the chorus long and hard. It was just after this when I realized I was in the no-woman’s-land between two increasingly large and frenetic mosh pits – dangerous territory for anyone not looking for a random fist in the face or elbow to the ribs. I danced away from the mosh sandwich towards my friends, marvelling at how music unites people and ignites the collective soul.
The Dead Daisies gave us the gift of uplift – and boy we could use more of it.
10 responses to “Rock ‘n Roll Resurrection: Dead Daisies in Havana”
Glad you had a great night out blowing off energy and simoly enjoying yourself. Life is for living . You do with what you have , what you can. Keep on writing !
That’s actually a drop-dead gorgeous Scala guitar.
File under: How to Lose Rock n Roll Chick Cred FAST. (que pena!)
Thanks for the correction
Not at all. You did a great job and it does quite resemble it from a little far away. That would be Gibson’s point of contention in the court of law. I just happened to catch the article and know what Richard plays (and it’s pictured to boot) :).
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I love your blog. And I have one question to you (my favorite Havana specialist!) regarding Rock’n Roll: I assume you will be at the Rolling Stones concert on March 25th 🙂 Do you have any advice regarding admittance to the Ciudad Deportiva premises? I know they won’t sell tickets and it’s all free but it’s there a way to avoid what I think will be a days-long “cola”? Any way to put my hands on invitations via the back door? Perhaps with some local NGO or cultural organization, no idea. Anyway, I’d appreciate some tips to make the best of what I already expect to be a big challenge 🙂
Thanks a lot an advance from a rock’n roll and Cuba lover
Ay Eric – take el ultimo en la cola for “backdoor invitations” – everyone is working angles here to avoid what is certain to be a mob scene. People will come from all over the country for this, from Miami, from Cancun. It’s going to be wild. They’ve already installed the port-o-sans (port-o-sans! In Havana! Not just 3 cardboard walls erected over a sewer – these will be the facilities at tomorrows giant show at the Tribuna Anti Imperialista). I am one lucky rock n roll bitch, however: I’m permanently accredited press so should have an easier time of it (she says w fingers and toes crossed). Good luck and rock on!!
And stay tuned here: Im writing a pre-Stones post right now….
Hi there. New rumors going around that the concert is being switched to the Latino – which is good for capacity (30,000+) but terrible for public transportation. I’ll post the latest here: https://m.facebook.com/ConnerGo/
Oh that sounds promising! Thanks for the update, I will keep an eye on that 🙂
Rumors squashed. Concert will be at Ciudad Deportiva.