Before the Super Bowl even happened, it was already going to be a big year for Chicano Batman.
The Los Angeles band, which headlines Saturday at the Foundry at the Fillmore, had their wholly impressive third album, Freedom Is Free, scheduled for release in February. That was to be followed by a year of touring that would bring them back to Philadelphia for the Non-Commvention on May 17 at the World Café Live and on July 28 to the XPoNential Festival at the BB&T Pavilion.
While finishing up Freedom last year with Lee Fields' producer Leon Michels, the Batman men also recorded a version of Woody Guthrie’s patriotic protest song “This Land Is Your Land” for the "Keep Walking America" ad campaign for Scottish whiskymaker Johnny Walker.
Little did band members Eduardo Arenas, Carlos Arevalo, Bardo Martinez, and Gabriel Villa (ages 32 to 35) know that the commercial would debut before 172 million U.S. viewers during the New England Patriots-Atlanta Falcons game as one of many ads that emphasized America’s history as a nation of immigrants.
“The commercial ran during the Super Bowl and the Grammys, and it has millions of views on YouTube,” says Arenas, the bass player who founded the band along with singer Martinez and drummer Villa in 2008. (Guitarist Arevalo joined three years later.)
Speaking from Burlington, Vt., this week, he says: “You read the comments, and 90 percent are great, like: ‘You’re right, this land is my land -- I live here. We built this city, we built this economy. This is our land.’
“But then you read another comment, and it’s: ‘This country will never be yours. You’re the wrong skin color to be calling this your America.' It just exposes society. And it’s good for everybody to read that, so we can know where we’re really at.”
On Freedom Is Free, Martinez sings lead in English and Spanish, and the band cast a vintage psychedelic-R&B spell on songs like “Friendship (Is a Small Boat in a Storm)” and “The Taker Story.”
When the group was born in the late aughts, it was inspired by tropicalia, the 1960s music and arts movement in Brazil, where both Martinez and Arenas have lived. Tropicalia was appealing, Arenas says, because “it was giving a big [middle finger] to the right-wing regime of Brazil. They were trying to cause a revolution.”
For Chicano Batman, that rebellious streak is applied “to barriers of identity,” Arenas says. “We’ve always had to battle the idea that people don’t just see us as a good band, but as a good band for Latinos. And it takes a very long time for people’s perspective to be open -- to be good enough to be seen as just human beings.
“If you come to our shows, it’s all kinds of people. It’s not only Latinos. And that’s a great success for us. And it just goes to show, there is hope. There is hope!”
Chicano is a term that “traditionally people give to first-generation Mexicans as they come into this country,” says Arenas. “But really it’s about an ideology you can adapt. ... It’s about empowerment and feeling beautiful, rejecting notions of beauty from media, and embracing your cultural roots. It’s important to plant some roots and say who you are.”
The caped crusader in the name comes from a logo Martinez designed. “It was Batman with a muscle shirt, cutoff jeans, and a pencil mustache, as a UFW [United Farm Workers] fighter,” says Arenas. “The return of the superhero to a human level. It’s about those people who work every day and put rice and beans on the table and make sure our kids go to school. That kind of everyday hero. That’s the Chicano Batman.”Chicano Batman with Sadgirl and 79.5 at 8 p.m. Saturday at the Foundry at the Fillmore, 29 E. Allen St. $15. livenation.com 800-745-3000.