The wolf at 25
Los Lobos plays a hot set and celebrates Cinco de Mayo in Spanish
East L.A. band Los Lobos turned in a great set of music last Sunday evening at Feather Falls Casino in Oroville. The band is 25 years old now and demonstrated no signs of flagging during the show. Adding to the energy level of the evening was the fact that it was Cinco de Mayo.
“Are there any Hispanics here tonight?” asked sunglasses-and-soul-patch-sporting guitarist Cesar Rosas at one point between songs.
A lone voice shouted back, “Chicanos!”
Rosas smiled and quipped, “Chicanos are always in the back!”
It was from here that the band launched into a set of beautifully performed traditional Spanish ballads, artfully altered a bit toward zydeco and tango rhythms. However, even given the traditions the group is steeped in, Los Lobos is actually a great rock ‘n’ roll band. The six-members have never strayed too far from their rock roots. Latin, funk, jazz, reggae … all of these elements are brought in from time to time to add diverse flavorings. And Los Lobos’ canny use of these elements is what keeps its brand of rock a viable, potent force.
As if to emphasize that point, Los Lobos kicked off the evening with a sung-in-Spanish rocker, presumably from its as-yet-unreleased new CD. Guitarists/singers Rosas, Dave Hidalgo and (original drummer) Louie Perez were in fine form, while bassist Conrad Lozano and drummer Victor Bisetti held it all down with tight, intricate rhythms. Adding color and momentum was the keyboard work of Steve Berlin.
The men followed the rocker with the title cut from their 1999 CD This Time, the funky backbeat finally inducing folks to get off their chairs and groove by the stage. Smoothly, about halfway into the song, Los Lobos dropped in Bob Marley’s “I Don’t Want to Wait in Vain for Your Love,” Berlin wielding a baritone sax and squeezing out a compelling solo.
“We don’t even know the lyrics yet,” admitted Hidalgo, humorously introducing a song from the band’s forthcoming CD, Good Morning Aztlán. The album will be the group’s 11th release, appearing in stores Tuesday, June 4, on Mammoth Records. The piece played last Sunday was strongly suggestive of the quick rockers by Larry Williams, such as the oft-covered “Slow Down.”
Before the audience could catch a breath, Los Lobos then jumped directly into an energetic reading of Richie Valens’ “Let’s Go.” The rock classic afforded guitarist Rosas the opportunity to solo à la Chuck Berry, his subtle economy of movement and grimacing establishing a kind of über-cool, the sheer antithesis of the clichéd posturing rock guitar hero. And ultimately much more effective.
There followed another new song, “The Big Ranch,” or as Hidalgo translated, “El Rancho Grande,” a moderate Band-like ballad with angular Allmans-esque guitar lines on the choruses. From here, Los Lobos entered the set of traditional Spanish tunes mentioned above.
The group appended the evening with an encore, kicked off with a soaring rendition of Hendrix’ "Little Wing," Hidalgo and Rosas each taking ringing solos. They finished with an almost Jamaican-flavored "Guantanamera," inviting us all to sing along on the chorus. If there was a single sad aspect to the evening, it was that the hall was only about a third occupied. But the band didn’t seem to mind. A quarter-of-a-century later, perhaps for these seasoned musicians it was like playing a small club back in their early days.