If you listened to Juan Wauters’s latest album La Onda de Juan Pablo, you’d never think that he’d be the kind of guy to let his freak flag fly high. The former Beets frontman’s album sounds like a vintage LP found in a Latin American record shop. But ask anyone who saw him open for Mac DeMarco during his fall 2018 tour, and they’ll tell you that he did some weird stuff on stage, like singing the first few lines of Nancy Dupree’s “James Brown” for 20 minutes, over and over again. But as weird as things get, he trusts that the crowd will eventually come around to his strange, but laid back demeanor after an initial bout of confusion. His DC9 show, also the last show of his tour across North and South America, was no less of a metaphorical trust fall into the audience.
Deep down lies an earnest and clever songwriter - “Guapa” and Beets cut “Happy But On My Way” were highlights of his solo acoustic performance. But if the crowd left that night with any particular memory, it would be due to Wauters’s on-stage antics. The random clapping while exclaiming “Let’s go!” in-between songs. The inexplicable running across the tiny DC9 stage. The folding away of the carpet that he brought for the show - at the start of the show. And of course, the willingness to make the crowd an integral part of the show. He quizzed audience members on the English translation of his song “Disfruta La Fruta”: “Enjoy the fruit / a truck on the route / brought to you today / good, the fruit / the truck brought to you / the fruit I am enjoying!” For each line in the song, he went to a different person in the audience with the goal of making it through all six lines correctly. If someone got their line wrong or chose not to talk into the mic, Wauters went back to the stage, sang the words in English again, and went back in the crowd. Rinse and repeat.
It’s easy to know the words when the crowd is singing along. It’s a different story when Wauters decides to put the mic in front of you in the hopes that you know the next lyric. Most took it in stride, but some had enough of this game and left the show, maybe about a fifth to a quarter of the crowd. Who knew how long it would’ve taken until the crowd finally got the words right? Not Wauters, that’s for sure. Depending on who you ask, Wauters is either crazy or a genius for interspersing his show with such weirdness and uncertainty. And until you’ve experienced his live set, you don’t really know Juan Wauters.
La Onda de Juan Pablo is out now through Captured Tracks.
Opening for Juan Wauters was DC group October ‘71, formerly known as the Rob Stokes Band. Fronted by drummer Rob Stokes and aided by an impressive set of musicians that could have been plucked from a lounge band from days gone by (including DMV musician Sir E.U.), the group evokes mystery, nostalgia, excitement, and yearning for a time gone by through their one-of-a-kind sound. Their latest album is the self-released Live at the Heartbreak Hotel.