A reunion, family or high school or otherwise, can have its special and especially awkward moments, unsure about what people will think of your new style, spirit, speak. Yet for the homecoming of Nina Diaz, mighty yet soft with hot purple-pink highlights streaming through her hair, there was nothing but love, acceptance, and pride as mom and dad, sister Phanie, and the rest of Diaz’s San Antonio family welcomed her first performance under her solo record The Beat Is Dead, released last night to a packed house at the Tobin’s Carlos Alvarez Theater.
While it is clear from the band’s stage presence and natural fluidity and showmanship that the groove is steeped in a powerful rock that drives and digs, it was the quieter moments that seemed to define the evening, as Diaz opened up before those she loved.
“Sometimes they think I’m from Austin but I quickly correct them – I always tell ‘em that San Antonio is my home,” Diaz said to raucous applause. “You all are my family, the sweetest people, so generous. Thank you for trusting me.”
The moment a rock star dims the lights and speaks only through breath and heart is the moment the audience has the chance to do the same, building a connection that quite simply can’t happen when the adrenaline is rushing.
“This one’s for my mom and dad – they’re here today,” Diaz said, smiling out into the audience. “He’s my stepdad, but he raised me. It doesn’t matter what the blood says, it matters who did the work. I love you all so much.”
Soul-soaked and stripped down, wailing into the longer notes, sipping and dipping and digging into darkness to get to the light, Diaz gave her most vulnerable and palpable performance during that dedication. Off her album, the song entitled “For You” is a spiritual sojourn into her relationship with Krishna and her higher self.
After a faithful and heartfelt acoustic introduction, Austin Valentine, Travis Vela, Jorge Gonzalez, and Johnny Shrink fell in on cue with a tidal wave of sound to wash clean and refresh the intensely beautiful feeling inside the room – everything that happens when you let your heart out to shine.
“I mean she’s still the same powerhouse who brings that soul, who transmits that energy and that hasn’t changed,” said Rebel Mariposa, owner of La Botánica and Chicana activist in San Antonio. “It’s a beautiful journey for her to take all of us on, especially the women of San Antonio – and especially the women of color in San Antonio.”
Mariposa, touching upon some sensitive points about sexism raised by Diaz herself during the show, said that coming up against the “good ole boys club” is inevitable as a woman.
“You have to get in there, come in with this powerful feminine energy which is so important,” Mariposa said. “I loved it when Nina just grabbed her guitar and started wailing, wailing on her vocals, just being so raw. I was like ‘yes, yes’ in my heart.”
The neon lights pressed upon the black box walls of the Alvarez, the perfect backdrop for the newly neon Diaz and crew to match, a pumped up electronic drum and bass intro kicking off certain tunes, giving a unique, perhaps cleaner, edge to whatever punk or grunge frays the audience may have been used to from her previous sound.
With the stage higher up than the average performing musician, and with the atypical setup of 30% of the audience standing up at the stage versus sitting more quaintly in the rows of chairs, the concert created a more up close and personal experience for Diaz’s fans.
Jaime Ramirez, who played keys with Diaz in the first iteration of the group more than two years ago, was one of those individuals, relishing the opportunity to see it all from this side.
“It’s cool to watch, you have guys throwing in their two cents along the way, nothing ever goes wrong in rock ‘n’ roll,” said Ramirez, adding that you just have to make it work and make something happen. “It’s been a minute since I’ve seen them perform, there’s a tightness in the songs, really solid core.”
Ramirez was able to be there when Diaz was first composing the songs on The Beat is Dead, of which he is featured on keys in two of the tracks.
“It was a long process from the writing, to the recording, to going on tour and finally the release,” Ramirez said. “It’s satisfying to see here, I’m really proud of her. It’s a win for the city, the whole city is behind her.”