First megalomaniacal anti-Castro lobbyist Jorge Mas Canosa kicks the bucket, and now Los Van Van make their second-ever Chicago appearance hot on the heels of their first–what’s going on? It ain’t over by a long shot, but it seems that the U.S. government’s inhumane and ineffective Cuban embargo may be on its way out at last. Last week the Cuban a cappella group Vocal Sampling performed at HotHouse, where Cubanismo! (see separate Critic’s Choice) plays this week, and if you follow the work of Peter Watrous in the New York Times, you’ll have seen reviews of recent visits by one major Cuban act after another, most recently Orquesta Reve and pianist Chucho Valdes. Los Van Van, formed in Havana in 1969, have been Cuba’s most popular dance band for nearly 30 years. Leader Juan Formell, a bassist, applied the lessons he learned with Orquesta Reve, one of the island’s greatest son bands, and updated the traditional violin-and-flute-heavy charanga format with electric bass, synthesizer, and a three-trombone horn section borrowed from conjunto; he also added subtle rock and pop elements into the already spicy mix. Formell and pianist Cesar Pedroso are superb songwriters, and on the group’s latest album, Te pone la cabeza mala (“This’ll Mess Up Your Head,” on Metro Blue), vocalists Pedro Calvo, Roberto Hernandez, and Mario Rivera do the tunes justice both solo and in harmony. And whether on romantic ballads like “Ella tiene algo que no se” or burners like the title track, the whole 16-member group exhibits the lithe precision of a power trio. Wednesday, 9 PM, House of Blues, 329 N. Dearborn; 312-527-2583 or 312-923-2000. PETER MARGASAK

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Ned Sublette.