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CONCERT REVIEW: Helado Negro @ The ‘Sco, 5/7/22

by Raghav Raj

Staff Writer

art by Henley Childress, photo courtesy of Helado Negro's Twitter

[originally published May 20, 2022]


Though it’s probably ridiculous to consider this anything other than coincidence, a part of me wonders if the arrival of Helado Negro at Oberlin’s Dionysus Disco on Saturday, May 7th — a pleasantly sunny day after a week of dreary downpours — was some sort of kismet. (Maybe that’s a convoluted way to open a concert review, but bear with me.) If there’s any feeling that mirrored his show that night, one of the ‘Sco’s more packed shows in recent memory, it’s that unmistakable feeling of finally basking in the daylight after an eternity spent hiding from the rain.

As Helado Negro, Roberto Carlos Lange makes ethereal pop music that defies categorization, inflected with the gentle earnestness of folk and smeared with the vibrant colors of psychedelia. His moniker means “black ice cream” in Spanish; aptly, Lange’s music is both bilingual and refreshingly sweet. Throughout his performance at the ‘Sco, he oscillated gracefully between English and Spanish, approaching themes of love, anxiety, and identity within the Latin American experience with a featherlight touch, warm and inviting as he swayed on the stage.

Most of his set at the ‘Sco consisted of his excellent 2021 record, Far In. The album is one of Lange’s more languid, breezy excursions — rich with incandescent and sun-soaked textures — but hearing it live, what’s perhaps most remarkable is how tightly rhythmic it all sounded. Helmed by the synths, bass, and guitar of Wye Oak’s Andy Stack, as well as Pinson Chanselle’s deft, brilliant work behind the drum-kit, the trio sounded remarkably locked in with every shape they took, from the rave-up synths on “Aureole,” to the skittering, spaced-out funk of “Hometown Dream.” Even on the sparse, hymnal melodies of a song like “Thank You For Ever,” the rumbling toms and brittle backing vocals swept the song into an effusive rush of warmth, a swirling, breathtakingly cosmic storm.

At the center of this storm, of course, was Lange, whose voice is simply one of the most transfixing things I’ve ever heard. His falsetto is a fragile, delicate thing, an extraordinary instrument that gracefully pitter-patters and pulses through dense sonic textures like a warm knife through butter. Even as he playfully bantered with the crowd — cracking jokes, offering insights on performing in Ohio, asking audience members their astrological signs so he could toy with the lyrics of “Gemini and Leo” — his vocals sounded lithe and malleable, drifting into birdsong coos on “Wake Up Tomorrow” as eagerly as they bounced around the bassline anchoring “There Must Be A Song Like You” (which, in my opinion, sounds strangely similar to the melody of “Blade Runner Blues”).

One of the last songs that Lange played was “Pais Nublado,” a standout cut from his previous album, 2019’s timely This Is How You Smile. Its title effectively translates to “cloudy country,” a song about resilience, community, and positivity as acts of defiance in the face of looming political anxieties. As he reached the chorus, Lange tipped the microphone towards the audience, beaming as they eagerly sang along. Throughout the night, Lange’s boundless, glowing positivity was what stood out the most, an immediately infectious exuberance that lingered in the air long after the doors had closed. Even at its most pointedly political, his performance was joy as an act of resistance: liberating, beautiful, and utterly revelatory.

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