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Julieta Venegas, Mexico's Queen of Pop, Stunned the House of Blues Last Night

During Julieta Venegas' 20-year artistic career, the Tijuana-via-Long Beach songstress has been described as both "mainstream" and "alternative," but both are been misguided ways to describe Venegas.

After finding cult-like support with her first two releases, Buenviento and Aqui, both of which forever shook the Mexican pop/rock landscape, Venegas started recording Top 40-smashing pop albums that were considered her selling-out moment. (Because succeeding is such an awful thing, right?) Regardless of her past classifications, there is one title she now holds, undisputed: Julieta Venegas is Mexico's Queen of Pop.

Presenting her new critically acclaimed album Los Momentos, Julieta returned to Dallas' House Of Blues Wednesday night to a diverse crowd of art-punk latinos, post-cholos and enthusiastic Mexican mothers who were ready to see the Tijuanaese open a new chapter in her already stellar career.

Last night's concert, part of House of Blues' 20th anniversary, started in the almost customary ritual of confusion that accompanies many Latin showcases that happen in Dallas: First, this concert, when first announced two months ago, was set to have both Julieta Venegas and Mexican indie-pop sensation Natalia Lafourcade on the same lineup. But she wasn't there, leaving many cardigan-wearing Latin males with their desire to see their two dream girls on the same stage unfulfilled. Second, it was set to start around 8 p.m. and ended up starting closer to 9:30.

Even after the two-hour wait and no opening band, the ridiculously well-dressed crowd was still in high spirits as Venegas made her way out dressed in a couture combination of red print jumpsuit pants, navy blazer and nude heels (This fashion tidbit comes via my date.) "Te amo Julieta," ("I love you Julieta"), someone in the crowd screamed, and then came the reply, "No, yo te amo Julieta"(No, I love you Julieta).

Shifting from her orquestal-based lineup from her last tour, Julieta opted for a more traditional four-piece backing band that included the vocals of Mariani Ruzzi, who commanded the synthesizer. Three projector screens behind her displayed Super-8 video reels expressing themes of femininity, solitude and peace.

Starting the night with "Hoy," Julieta took her position at the piano. With a fantastic stage prowess and warm grace, it took very little time for Venegas to grab our attention and never give it back. Venegas isn't a dramatic vocalist -- instead, she uses her airy inflections to weave in and out of emotional spaces, giving her songs new twists by using clever timing and catchy wordplay.

Venegas played three instruments. Her native accordion is the one on which she radiated the most, displaying masterful command of the instrument. There are very few people on this planet that can play the accordion like her.

Venegas' performances are a continuous transition in mood as she negotiates her long catalog with precision. A student of pop music, Julieta knows very well it's not just about deciding which hits to play, but also when and where. This was best displayed in a stunning three-song trifecta of "Ilusion," "Lento" and "Vuelve," which served as the slow-down-please-pass-me-the-Kleenex moment of the night. The night was filled with many moments of emotional release and regathering.

Between songs, Venegas would speak in her hyper-fast Tijuana-accented Spanish, explaining many of her songs, often with emotionally charged political nods to the current state of Mexico and other times with a bittersweet comment on the fleeting nature of love.

Julieta closed the main portion of her night with "Me Voy." It's a song best described by the Mexican idiom malacopa, which is when you're drunk or heartbroken or both. This song in particular always seems to strike a chord with the female fans, who yell the lyrics in a militant shout, recalling every never-returned text, bad breakup and cheating vato they ever met.

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Exiting the stage for a brief moment, Venegas returned for the encore to play the sweetest love song of them all, "Andar Conmigo," the crowd waving their arms, making heart gestures with their hands and openly expressing an affection rooted two decades deep for the singer.

Wednesday was a night that doesn't happen that often in this city. It was a chance to catch one of Latin America's most important musical figures of the last 20 years. Even this long into her career Venegas remains as important as ever to understanding the Latin-Alternative musical movement -- its past as well as what its future holds.

Whether people want to label her as "mainstream" or "alternative" is up to them. Ultimately Julieta, like many other modern counterparts (Bjork, P.J. Harvey, Fiona Apple) will be defined by her stellar creative output, and rightfully so.

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