Los Amigos Invisibles bring pep n' funk to Crowbar, Ybor City

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In elementary school, I had a music teacher who astonished me by declaring that he could read music. I was at the age of taking statements literally, so I brought him a sheet of music to translate into words. He explained that his task was impossible — "reading" music meant simply understanding the notes and melodies that make up a given composition. My new understanding of the subject endured until Thursday night's show at Crowbar, where I realized something. Music can be a language.

The group that inspired this realization were Los Amigos Invisibles, the Latin-Grammy-winning Venezuelan rock sextet who blend traditional Latin rhythms with acid jazz, funk, and disco. Although the band sung almost entirely in Spanish, and my knowledge of Spanish is poor, the upbeat tempo of the music spoke to me in a language I understood, nonetheless. It was a language of celebration.

The band began with "Sexy" from 2007's The New Sound of the Venezuelan Gozadera. As fans shouted along the lyrics, the lively tune set the tone for the rest of the night. The best aspect of the lively opener was its sexy thumping bass riff that was more than a little reminiscent of funk legends Parliament. I must not have been the only one who caught the sensual vibes of the track, since the group's keyboardist began swiveling his hips in tune.

It was hard not to enjoy the peppy, buoyant music, and the crowd showed their appreciation by po-going up and down and clapping along vigorously. At one point in the set, someone in the crowd brought out a Venezuelan flag and lead singer Julio Briceño draped it around his neck as he led the band through several of the night's 15+ cuts.

"Playa Azul" benefited heavily from the inclusion of percussionist Mauricio Arcas' congas. Paired with Briceño's smooth voice, the bossa nova number made for a laid-back break from the heavily animated music. "Playa Azul" was the exception to the rule: the night's set did wear a bit in terms of sonic similarity; yet, the vibes were so positive that it was hard to fault the group.

Briceño's asked the crowd to cheer for where they came from, and Colombians, Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, Brazilians, and Americans showed love for their home countries. For an American, hearing the maracas, woodblock and guiro (a scraping instrument) was downright exotic, a nice change from same "drum, bass guitar" set-up of many American bands. The group also included a nod to the USA, splicing a bit of Americana into their set. They played brief portions of a number of pop songs, from the cheesy-cool '80s dinosaur "Eye of the Tiger" to the deep thrums of The White Stripes' "Seven Nation Army."

Perhaps it is apt the band played in Tampa, since we are a melting pot of different cultures. Because the crowd included people from a range of different backgrounds, there needed to be a unifying aspect. I think P-funk put it best with their late '70s track, "One Nation Under Groove": "One nation under a groove / Gettin' down just for the funk of it." That night, everyone was speaking the same funkin' language.

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