How the wolves survive

Los Lobos nurture their pack at Gold Country

HAIL MIGHTY CÉSAR <br>Iconic founding father of Los Lobos César Rosas plays one for the dedicated fans at Gold Country Casino.

Iconic founding father of Los Lobos César Rosas plays one for the dedicated fans at Gold Country Casino.

photo by Sara Sipes

Los Lobos
Gold Country Casino, Friday, Aug. 24

I fell in love with Los Lobos at first sight, when I saw them play at the Ping-Pong Palace, the first stop on their first nationwide tour, way back when. Since then I’ve caught a couple of other club gigs, a concert at Laxson Auditorium, and a huge outdoor festival in Telluride, Colo. Every show has been great, a blessing bestowed on their audience by a dedicated and hardworking group of awesome musicians.

So, sure, I brought a lot of expectations with me to see the guys perform at Gold Country Casino last Friday. Finding out that fewer than half of the 1,000-seat concert hall’s tickets had pre-sold didn’t bode well for the evening’s festivities, but you can’t always judge a show by how many people buy a ticket to see it, and the 400 or so folks who were in attendance this night were treated to the band in a more playful mode than usual.

César Rosas and David Hidalgo started the set off as a duo, playing acoustic guitars and doing a couple of Spanish-language songs, including the title track from their Grammy-winning album La Pistola y el Corazên. Despite some technical difficulties with the sound system, the two delivered the songs to enthusiastic response from the audience.

Then the rest of the band came out to get things moving in a more danceable direction, sliding easily into the deeply sinuous groove of “Kiko and the Lavendar Moon.” César, behind his jet-black shades and goatee, looks natural as can be with an electric guitar in his hands, and David looks like a joyful Latino Buddha, whether he’s playing exquisite lead guitar, squeezing a button accordion, or going like mad on the auxiliary percussion. Perhaps because his keyboards were inaudible, Steve Berlin stuck to blowing great tenor sax solos whenever he got the opportunity.

Founding drummer Louie Pérez relinquishing his throne on many numbers to guest drummer Victor Bisetti, whose playing was both fluid and solid, giving Pérez freedom to attend to playing rhythm guitar up front with his longtime partners. Missing from the original lineup was bassist Conrad Lozano, whose place for the evening was filled by (I think I heard it right) Brad Shaw, a man of grizzly bear proportions and delicate sensibilities who made his five-string bass look the size of a kid’s toy guitar as he held down the many bottom lines of the night’s list of songs.

And that list, as I mentioned, seemed pretty casual as the night went on, with songs metamorphosing out of jams and flowing on into yet other songs in a way that suggested Los Lobos’ affiliation with the Grateful Dead is much deeper than just their having recorded “Bertha” for the tribute album Deadicated in 1991. The obligatory “La Bamba” and extended versions of Fleetwood Mac’s “Rattlesnake Shake,” Bob Marley’s “I Don’t Want To Wait in Vain,” and a stunning note-for-note rendition of Santana’s “Oye Cêmo Va” gave the guitarists miles of room to stretch out, and with a little encouragement from César a good portion of the crowd rushed to the front of the house to have a dance party that left the security guards shaking their heads and the band grinning like merry pranksters as they loaded the floor for their encore of the Rascals’ “Good Lovin'.”

For a night that started slow and felt a little weird for a while, those of us who stuck around ended up at where Los Lobos started—a time to dance.