[Ed. Note: Reprints presented as always without edits.]
Ximena Sariñana is not a name that many know this side of the border, but she's quite famous in Mexico. She started her career at eight years old, acting and singing, and finally released her first album, Mediocre, in 2008. It caught the attention of many, including Rolling Stone, hit #10 on Billboard's Latin Pop Albums chart, got her nominated for two Latin Grammy's (Best New Artist and Best Alternative Song for album highlight "Normal"), and won a Grammy for Best Latin Rock/Alternative Album. In 2009, she caught many ears, including mine, when she started appearing on albums by her significant other, Omar Rodriguez-Lopez of the Mars Volta. They've released four critically acclaimed albums together and toured a few times. Now Ximena is making her away around the US on her own. Being a Mars Volta superfan, not to mention a fan of Ximena's record, I had to check out her live show when I found out she was coming through Houston.
Initially, it was a bit of a culture shock as I found myself in the vast minority of the audience at the House of Blues last night, being a young anglo kid from the suburbs. In fact, one woman even asked me who I was there for. When I replied that I was there to see Ximena, she seemed genuinely surprised I knew who she was. But by the time Ximena took the stage, I was quickly united with the rest of the audience in shared mesmerization.
At first I felt a slight pang of disappointment when Ximena walked up to the tiny Bronze Peacock Room stage by herself and stood in front of a simple keyboard set-up. I had gone in expecting a full band set-up as on her album, but what could have been a standard pop rock performance became an intimate singer-songwriter set instead. Ximena started off slow, playing it low and quit, with the excited, screaming audience that filled the Bronze Peacock Room wall-to-wall almost drowning her out, but quickly she escalated and began pouring her all in the music. Soon the audience quieted down, enchanted by Ximena's heart and soul crying out through her music. There were lighter moments, but she truly shined on the ballads.
The easy highlight of the set was a performance of the title track from her album Mediocre. She truly let loose on it, sending her voice soaring on the chorus to a round of applause. Towards the end of the song, she broke off and in the brief silence the audience rapturously congratulated her. Then with a gracious smile, she launched back into the song with full force, finishing it out with a bang.
At the end of almost every song, Ximena spoke a little bit. Though I couldn't understand most of what she said, there was one word I did pick up. "Gracias," which she repeated over and over. A simple, honest gesture as she seemed truly amazed by the turn-out and the love of the crowd. With all the energy we gave, she gave back one hundred percent, going through a set of all the songs on Mediocre and some that I assume will be on the new album she's recording right now. More than anything, I got a feel for her true talent as a songwriter from the stripped-down versions of her songs. Without the addition of a lot of backing instruments, in fact just a laptop, the melodies and heart shone through so much more than on the album.
When the show was over, Ximena humbly took to the merch table to sign autographs and take pictures with everyone that lined up. It was a great way to end the night, with another genuine show of appreciation towards her fans.