Their timeslot was 1:00-1:50AM at Headhunters, a cramped rock venue nestled in the heart of Austin's 'Red River row' of live music venues. The SXSW stage manager informed all bands (12 total, since Headhunters has two stages) that they were all to load-in at 6pm. Being all too familiar with Headhunters' lack of space, Scorpio Rising singer Madame Scorpio emailed the Stage Manager and all bands, suggesting there be a backline for the whole night, saving everyone from babysitting their gear on the sidewalk outside the club. Piñata Protest stepped up. Though they had to make the trek up I-35 from their home in San Antonio, they offered to take on the role of host, loaning their (good quality) gear to the 6 bands playing the inside stage.
So there they were, four humble, friendly Piñata Protesters, loading in their gear 6+ hours before they played, for the benefit of all. Piñata Protest are unassuming gents—four amiable, appreciative, fairly soft-spoken guys who supported each of the other bands on the bill, even as those bands left after their own sets.
The band's leader and singer, Alvaro Del Norte, dressed sharply in a vest, dress shirt and slacks, clean-cut perhaps as a helpful requisite of his day gig as a parole officer. It made almost made sense when he took the stage and pulled out his accordion. I had heard some high praise of the band earlier in the night from Hickoids' bassist, Rice Moorehead, and learned Piñata Protest was signed to Saustex Media, the label run by Hickoids singer, Jeff "Smitty" Smith. Still, I had no idea of the punch Piñata Protest was packing.
The sonic assault that began at 1:00AM floored me. The best I can describe Piñata Protest is that they are a tight, super-charged punk band who heavily infuse their fast, energetic sound with Cumbia, blues, and some form of nuclear polka. They rock, smoothly. They scream into their mics, stylishly. They are raw yet refined, playing punk rock with a musicality that most punk bands lack (either intentionally or not).
A highlight of the night to the throng that packed Headhunters, approaching 2AM Wednesday morning, was "Cantina." Think Dropkick Murphys en Español. For oldschoolers, a Brave Combo sound, but both heavier and with more influence from Chicano culture. It wouldn't be inaccurate to say that Headhunters went ape-shit during "Cantina." These friendly, clean cut guys Killed. It. Beers were shaken, opened, and sprayed (by the crowd, not the band) all around. There was pogo-ing. Cumbia-ing. Slam-dancing. Moshing. And broad smiles crossed the faces of everyone there (except when they were in the midst of being shoved, or were shoving themselves).
Piñata Protest did it how it's supposed to be done: come in quietly and carry a big stick. Their big stick is their live show, which you absolutely must see. My Dad would love this band, as would my metalhead friends. And it was refreshing to see a band that rocks this hard, yet possesses humility, appreciation, and a communal approach toward their musical brothers and sisters.
¡Viva Piñata Protest!