It used to be that if you wanted your band to get huge, you had to tour relentlessly and shmooze radio stations and press flesh to get your music across to the people. Thanks to online sources like MySpace, YouTube and countless indie music blogs, these days, a group's status can change in a matter of, well, days.
Ozomatli embrace all of these alternative media outlets while still "keeping it real," as the kids say. They've played Tucson no less than a dozen times in the last few years and haven't forgotten their loyal fan base here. Last week's show at the Rialto Theatre was no exception.
Some random reggae-funk band opened, but it was the following act that got a bigger response: A transparent screen dropped down over the stage, and a little ad for a cell phone company was projected in the guise of an opportunity for crowd members to text a message to appear on the screen. After momentarily mocking the situation and coming up with Orwellian parallels, I found myself among the other drunk zombies, staring at the screen, wondering if Reuben was going to text back Nikki, and vice versa.
Despite these hookup possibilities left unresolved, Ozomatli was greeted enthusiastically by a crowd who seemingly had an endless supply of empty beer bottles for those of us standing by a trash can. Ozo touched on all the crowd favorites: the hip-hoppish ode to partying, "Saturday Night," the Latin-flavored "Eva" and "Como Ves." The hyper "Chango" was a particularly peppy moment in an otherwise solo-heavy performance. Knowing their audience (predominately Hispanic), Ozomatli wisely chose to skip the Clear Channel-approved "(Who Discovered) America?" in favor of other rarities such as the catchy yet expansive "Ya Viene el Sol."
Ozomatli is known for audience interaction, but their next trick took us by surprise: They pulled several kids out of the audience, shoved percussive instruments in their hands and set them in front of a mic. Mostly scared out of their minds, the youngsters accompanied the band on the song "La Misma Cancion," the official finale. Despite the excessive cowbell by The Poor Little Musician That Could, their youthful spontaneity was the highlight of the night. Ozo live veterans knew what was next: the crowd-participation conga line through the audience and into the lobby.
Though a Sharks after-party performance (following locals The Jons) was rumored, it was not to be. Despite fanning those rumor flames with the song "After Party," Ozomatli decided instead to hang out with their all-ages Rialto crowd, signing CDs and spreading the love, one person and one handshake at a time. The old-fashioned way.