With its breezy harmonies, crisp, guitar-based pop songs, and sometimes laid-back country-rock groove, the mainstream music of Los Enanitos Verdes is what the Eagles might sound like had they grown up in Argentina singing in Spanish.
Enanitos Verdes performs Saturday at the Neighborhood Theatre for the second time in two years.
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A fixture on the rock en español scene for nearly three decades, it wasn't until the early '90s that the band began making inroads in the U.S. That was when several other pioneering Spanish-language rock acts, like the group's fellow countrymen Soda Stereo and Mexico's Caifanes and Maldita Vecindad, developed a U.S. following mainly on the West Coast and in New York.
In the past decade, some of those veteran bands, as well as younger followers like Molotov, have made their way to cities like Charlotte.
Bassist Marciano Cantero, guitarist Felipe Staiti and drummer Daniel Piccolo formed Enanitos Verdes in 1979. The band's name literally means “The Green Dwarves,” but it's also a reference to outer-space aliens and more accurately translates in English to “The Little Green Men.”
During the band's earliest years, Argentina was still ruled by a military junta, and Enanitos Verdes' early-'80s albums shied away from overt political messages. The group released several discs of lightweight pop-rock, and a string of successful tracks such as the Van Halen soundalike “El Extraño De Pelo Largo” (“The Stranger with the Long Hair”).
After breaking up briefly in the late '80s, Enanitos Verdes returned in 1994 with a much more sophisticated sound. The band also began speaking out about important issues in songs like 1994's “Lamento Boliviano,” about 19th-century South American liberator Simón Bolívar and fueled by bluesy guitar and the mystical sound of a traditional flute.
Enanitos Verdes has continued touring into the 2000s, two years ago releasing its latest studio album, “Pescado Original” (trans: “Original Fish,” a Spanish-language pun on “original sin”). The music on that disc was augmented by jazzy horns and other instruments including accordion and pedal steel guitar.
The band still covers more thoughtful terrain in the lyrics to songs such as “A Las Tres” (“At 3 O'clock”), about an immigrant worker who lives for his weekly phone call to his lover back home.
Like many rock en español bands that choose to retain the cultural impact of their music, Enanitos Verdes long ago vowed not to release a crossover English-language album.
“We think the U.S. is an important market,” Staiti told the Los Angeles Times in 2000, “but we also think there are enough Latinos in the U.S. for us not to have to record in English.”