Sunday, September 25, 2011

23rd September 2011 Palenke @SalsaWorks, The Engine Shed, Wetherby

Tony 'El Caballero' Piper understands how central the breaking of bread together is in creating strong social bonds. That's why he makes the run to his local supermarket twice weekly, to nab provisions for his salsa classes and his social evenings - it's an effort he makes that's over and above any other promoter I know.

So I'm perched at the breakfast bar of the Piper kitchen, scoffing one of Mary's cupcakes and watching the last batch of sausages emerge from the oven with a predatory eye. It's been a while since I was here last and I find the rhythm of this household to be refreshingly different. Already I've been Tony's grocery trolley dolly, a slicer and chopper, and packer of various comestibles; and as soon as my host's back is turned, those piping bangers are going to get a right menacing.
I'm staying over to enjoy one of my favourite salsa dance bands, Palenke, perform at the Engine Shed.

Palenke's Fernando, Adriana, Lisandro and Bill are the warmest characters you'll ever meet, and I surprise them side-stage just as they're about to soundcheck. We go back a long way. Smartly, the band provide their own PA, which means they can remain competitive with other ensembles who don't, and still being able to take home a more live-able wage. It's something well-established working bands do.

Both Tony and I feed back that the sound's a bit bright, so Fernando juggles the controls to tone down the migh-mids as the dancers begin to trickle in. SalsaWorks at the Engine Shed features a band on its programme once every six months. It's something they don't have to do (in fact they just about break even) but the team feel it's important to support live music otherwise "where would future recorded music come from?"

Palenke, giving it plenty @The Engine Shed
Alfredo and Christine take the intermediate salsa class on the main floor, while Tony leads the willing beginners (and one house guest) up to the smaller dance area. The theme of the 'beginner' lesson (as opposed to 'absolute beginner' of which there were none) is cross-body lead with "Titanic" variations, where us gents play Leonardo DiCaprio to the ladies' Kate Winslet with varying degrees of aplomb. Since these manoeuvres, though commonly found in the wild, aren't in my active dancing vocabulary, El Caballero's ship-encounters-iceberg hour made for a mischievous diversion.

Shortly afterward, the band struck up.

Palenke are in the midst of producing their second album. Strictly speaking, it's Lisandro who is its central custodian and midwife; he's always dreamt of having the band's album made in his home of Colombia and finally decided to take the plunge. Their two live sets featured numbers from the upcoming release, and if they're anything to go by, their production should be feature a cracking number of dancefloor-fillers.

There were signs, which only an experienced eye could glean, that the band weren't entirely comfortable with their foldback (i.e. onstage sound) during the first set - that's part of the risk with not having a dedicated live engineer - and as such I think Palenke delivered their second with more surety, with a well-judged mix of salsa, son montuno and bachata.

on past record how brilliant I feel Palenke are. That has not changed. They still reside at the pinnacle of salsa dance bands in the UK, and have been so for more than 20 years when others have been and gone. Dancing to them is a joy and a privilege, especially in a such a venue as the Engine Shed.

Basking in the warmth of their music and of dancing friends, this has been one lovely highlight to this year of salsa.

Loo Yeo