Norteño music pioneer and undisputed "King of the Accordion" Ramon Ayala celebrated his career's 50th anniversary with an impassioned show Friday night at the Ovations Live Showroom at the Wild Horse Pass Hotel and Casino. Emotions flared in the quaint theater as the stout Mexican legend moved from greatest hit to greatest hit, proving that although he has entered his sixth decade of music-making, his songs have still managed to keep their resonance.
Ayala and his Bravos del Norte quickly took the stage just 10-short minutes after the scheduled 8 p.m. start time and there were still plenty of empty seats scattered throughout the venue. It was really no surprise since we Mexicans have a thing for being late, but a sizable amount of the crowd missed some of Ayala's biggest tracks.
The mostly-four-piece band incited loud cheers when they launched into "Mi Piquito de Oro" to get things going. Smiles flashed and camera phones clicked away as Ayala stood stoically in an all black suit complete with vivid blue adornment and an imposing cowboy hat.
Surprisingly the group, which alternated from being a four-piece to a six-piece throughout the set, followed up with the classic Mexican drinking song, "Tragos Amargos," or bitter shots. The slower paced tune is a cantina staple filled with heart-wrenching lyrics and Ayala's signature accordion squeezes.
Maybe he played it as a penance to the late-concertgoers, but it was disappointing to hear it so soon, before the booze really had a chance to set in.
After that it was back-to-back crowd favorites, as Ayala and company traversed through their vast catalog of hits. Fans casually walked up to the stage with hand-written requests and dedications which they gave to the hype man/hand percussionist.
Throughout the night the band slanged their latest CD, which they boasted was the 107th album in their expansive discography, and other swag which included mini-accordions inscribed with the name "Ramon Ayala." And in case anyone had any doubts about the seemingly toy trinkets, Ayala gave a demonstration with one of them before tossing it into the crowd.
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Other highlights of the set included "Mezcla de Licor," where singer Mario Marichalar showed off his throaty bellows a la Louis Armstrong. The crowd sang along to the rhythmic hooks of "Casa de Madera" and nearly cried to "Puño de Tierra." And when "Rinconcito en el Cielo" started everyone screamed with delight and couples and singles took to their feet to dance to the bouncy beat.
They wrapped up after 21 songs, one encore and more than an hour-and-a-half of music. Ayala separated his trademark sideburns with a wide grin before waving off the crowd and walking off stage.