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A Fun and Intriguing Night at the Black Horse Open Mic in Mexico City – With a Cameo by a Runaway Director

October 27, 2016

Black Horse Open Mic Mexico City

Black Horse Open Mic Mexico City

MEXICO CITY – One of the occasional side shows of open mics around the world is the attendance of unusual people meeting on the level playing field of the amateur stage. Sometimes this comes in the form of professional musicians, actual rock stars, opera stars, or symphony violinists taking to the stage. Sometimes it comes in the form of actors or actresses trying their hand at the similarly thespian art of singing and performing live music instead of inhabiting theatrical roles. Last night at Mexico City’s only open mic, this cameo guest role came in the form of the somewhat eccentric, controversial and talented director of classic rock videos by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Johnny Cash, Roger Waters and, for me most significantly, “Runaway Train,” by Soul Asylum. Oh, and of course, this rather private man, Tony Kaye, is above all known as the renegade director of the film, American History X. So what the hell was he doing at the Black Horse open mic in Mexico City?

First part of Tony Kaye’s performance recorded on Zoom

Well, first of all, if you go to Tony Kaye’s Wikipedia page entry, you will find him defined as: “Director, cinematographer, producer, screenwriter, actor, writer, poet, singer/songwriter, painter.” Yes, singer/songwriter. So what could be more natural than for him to show up at an open mic in a town where he is apparently doing some filming? And guess what? I could see from his performances and the lyrics and music of his songs that Tony Kaye is definitely expressing himself in song. This is not just a capricious night out to give a try behind the open mic. In fact, I learned that he had also attended the same open mic the week before. (NOTE: After posting this blog item, I learned through amazing synchronicity in a conversation with someone who knew someone else who is working with Kaye now in Mexico on an advertisement for Mr. Muscle, a Mexican cleaning product  like Mr. Clean.  So that’s why Kaye is here; directing a commercial. It all makes clean sense now!)

Second part of Tony Kaye’s performance – recorded on Galaxy 6

Mounting the stage, he put on a hat that made him look vaguely like the Wicked Witch of the West, and had his by now trademark long white beard, and round spectacles, and definitely had a “presence.” And yet, it was interesting to see this legendary – if not very productive – film director (and ad man) then go on to apologize before his performance: “Thanks for letting me indulge in my hobby here before you,” he said, or something very similar. And he repeated two or three times that, “I’m only an amateur…”

Jairus and Ty opening the open mic at the Black Horse

That made me think, nevertheless, that maybe Tony Kaye has not done THAT many open mics or public performances, since I think there is a moment where you stop apologizing and just get on with doing your best. But there was not much of a way of learning the background to it all, for Tony off stage was actually a lot more private than onstage. He sat mostly by himself, and when I tried to venture over and start a conversation, I found it roadblocked most of the time. Is this his nature? Is it because as I learned from the IMDB that Kaye has had a severe speech impediment since childhood? What I really wanted to talk most about was that song, “Runaway Train,” which is one of the few cover songs that I do.

Natalia doing her moment at the open mic at the Black Horse in Mexico City

In fact, I was really tempted to sing my version of the song, and to preface it with my usual statement that while most people tend to use a respectable term for covering other musicians music by calling it “interpretation,” for me I say that I always try to cover another performer’s song in EXACTLY the way they do it… and I fuck up completely, but the fuck up ends up being called “interpretation,” and sometimes it is considered slightly original!

Tony Kaye at Black Horse in Mexico City

Tony Kaye at Black Horse in Mexico City

But in the end, I opted to do “Mad World,” and two of my own songs. Not only did I not quite have the nerve to do “Runaway Train,” but I felt it to be too fawning. I did, however, tell him that for me, that song had never represented the interpretation he had given it in the video, i.e., about teenagers who run away from home. Despite having run away from home myself briefly at age 17, I told him, I always felt the song was much more likely about such a thing as drug addiction, or perhaps addiction to a relationship one cannot break away from. (The band itself refers to it being about depression.)

The duo at the Black Horse open mic

In any case, it much to my great and huge delight to hear Tony Kaye respond to me very quickly about my observation by answering: “Oh, I put a spin on it.” In other words, he had very creatively interpreted the song his own way – and as it turned out, that was an important interpretation, as it is said to have helped save many relationships as many runaways were subsequently found.

Tony Kaye’s “Runaway Train” video for Soul Asylum

Part of me thinks I should not be writing that on the blog, since I had not intended to “interview” him, but this blog is a conversational thing that I generally write in as if I’m sharing stories with my friends. And I’ve already told a few friends about that conversation. So rightly or wrongly, I quote him there. Maybe, in fact, that is part of the reason he remained so private and closed-mouthed in general throughout the evening. But I think, now having looked up his career in Hollywood and the ad world, that possibly that has more to do with just how this eccentric director happens to be as a person.

Johnny Cash – God’s Gonna Cut You Down (Tony Kaye video)

I felt slightly embarrassed for Kaye when he got up to do his first song and after a few words of introduction – those apologies – he was entirely drowned out by the cheers of a large number of Mexicans watching an important soccer match with a Mexican team, precisely coinciding with the penalty shootout! When the cheers were explained to Kaye, he said in a very good natured way: “Well, I can’t compete with that, can I?”

In any case, Tony Kaye made the evening for a lot of people last night by showing up to do more of his very personal music, and I continue to feel justified in loving the open mic format.

But I should NOT being talking only about Tony Kaye. The evening at the Black Horse was another classic open mic evening, with a wonderful hosting job done by both Natalia – who did a great rendition of the Mercedes Benz song by Janis Joplin – and by Jairus, whom I had met last year when I attended.

There were many other fun and interesting performers as well, by the way, especially the couple of model-musicians who do music together as well as model together, with the woman on keyboards and the guy on guitar, and both on vocals. They did among other songs, a Pink Floyd….

Anyway, why could there not be MORE open mics in Mexico City!!!???? Perhaps there would be even more meetings with remarkable men…(and women)….

PS, a few hours after posting this blog item, I learned of a fabulous video that shows Jairus McDonald and his band in a recent live recording they did of some of their songs and some covers. The quality of this video, and especially the quality of the sound is spectacular – to say nothing of the quality of the musicianship. This is truly the Jairus I saw in his brief live appearance at the open mic last night, too. Apparently this video is one of a series of such live videos recorded in Mexico City of basically only Latin American bands, and Jairus and his band are the exception. I can see why. Very cool….

Peregrino – Sesión Completa (En Sesiones Claustro) – Jairus McDonald on vocals and guitar and the band…

Worldwide Open Mic Thumbnail Guide: Mexico City Edition

November 10, 2015

Mexico City

Mexico City

For my 24th city installment of my worldwide open mic guide today I am loading my Mexico City page. As a reminder, it all started with my now very popular Thumbnail Guide to Paris Open Mics, Jam Sessions and other Live Music, and due to that guide’s success, I decided this year to do a similar guide for each of the cities I travel to during my worldwide open mic tour.

HUGE Mexico City, MUCH music, but not Exactly Full of Open Mics

Mexico City is like around 21 million people in population, and located in Latin America. So you would expect it to be full of musical jams and open mics. After all, what a guitar-making industry! They make the famous Mexican Stratocasters, they make a lot of the Taylor guitars today as well. And when I was there, I saw all sorts of neat guitars and other instruments in several music shops. But I found only ONE open mic. Having said that, it was just my first and only visit to Mexico City, and as a first time visitor, this is NOT an easy to visit. So I’m hoping that with readers’ feedback, and further adventures of my own in Mexico City, I will eventually be able to find more open mics and jam sessions.

Worldwide Open Mic Guide Philosophy

The only guide I am really in a good position to update regularly is that of Paris, since I live there. But I decided to do guides to all the other more than 20 cities on my worldwide open mic tour in order to give the knowledge I have personally of each city’s open mics. The guide has links to sites I know of local guides that may be more up-to-date, but I have chosen to list the open mics or jam sessions that I have played in myself. There may be others that I know of, but if I have not played there, I will not include it on the list. That way, the user learns a little of my own impressions. But I cannot be as certain that the guide is up-to-date – so check before you go.

So here, now, in any case is the Thumbnail Guide to Mexico City Open Mics, Jam Sessions and other Live Music. Please do help me whenever you have information to give me on venues.

Gigantically Cool Open Mic at the Black Horse (Caballo Negro) Pub in Mexico City

October 29, 2015

Host Chris at Black Horse open mic in Mexico City

Host Chris at Black Horse open mic in Mexico City

MEXICO CITY – So imagine you have a sprawling city of 20 million inhabitants, and it’s in a country known for making guitars – Fender Stratocasters and Taylors among others – and there is no open mic, no open forum for musicians, even if there’s lots of music. If you started up an open mic, what would you expect? You would be right to think that you would expect something like the experience I had last night in Mexico City, at the Black Horse, or Caballo Negro, pub in the hipster part of town near the patriot’s metro station (which is not called that but I’m too lazy to look it up): You would have a rollicking, rocking, hip, cool, warm, open, neat open mic with a vast cross-section of cool musicians and an evening of laid back fun and rocking.

I am very pleased that I managed to find quickly, and make it to, this open mic, which I have been told – rightly or wrongly – is the only one in Mexico City. Hosted by expats Chris/Monty, of England, and Jairus, of Oklahoma, this Black Horse “open mic acoustic sessions” may be an expat open mic in the middle of a Latin sprawling city in the south of North America, but the flavor is definitely Mexican. It seemed last night that – happily – none of the people serving or running the bar spoke English, and a lot of the spectators were Mexican too. The beer was sufficiently Mexican, and the meal I had was Mexican too.
Organizers getting it together at Black Horse open mic in Mexico

cool kid at Black Horse open mic in Mexico City

cool kid at Black Horse open mic in Mexico City

For the first few minutes during the setting up of the open mic, I felt I was in a film noir Mexican too, as exceptionally, it turned out that on the previous night – which was a comedy open mic – someone thought it would be a great joke to kill half the sound system as well as the monitors, and there was some question as to whether it would be possible to proceed.

But the troopers who run this open mic forged onwards, and thank goodness they did, because it turned into a fabulous evening with lots of musicians. I was told that it was actually a quiet night by comparison with the usual deal, so I’m almost happy I did NOT turn up on a regular kind of night – I’d have been allowed to play two songs, no doubt, and not the four I fit in.

Started around three months ago by Chris and Jairus because there were no other open mics in Mexico City that they knew of, this place has become a magnet very quickly to all the talented musicians – mostly expat from what I see – who needed an outlet. I’m still thinking there MUST be some jamming places that many of the Mexican musicians congregate at, but I’ve not found anything yet. And in the meantime, this Black Horse is a real winner.
Third at Black Horse

Located, as I said, in a very hip neighbourhood of bars and restaurants, and some fine residences, it is the perfect venue for an open mic, with its stage and listening room at the back and on one side of the venue, and the bar on the other side, but still open to the stage, so it can attract listeners when the musician is irresistible.
Second at Black Horse

In any case, I’m walking on air for having found this place in only my second night in Mexico City, and hoping there will be at least one more discovery before I leave on Monday. In the meantime, if you’re ever in Mexico City, or if you care to drive from one end of North America to the other to check this open mic out, it’s worth it. A classic, and the right vibe and open-arm attitude!
Last at Black Horse

First at Black Horse

Cool one at Black Horse

Banjo at Black Horse

Another duet at Black Horse

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