Los Lobos entrance, then rock
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
ASPEN ” Early on in Los Lobos’ concert, Sunday night at Belly Up Aspen, someone in the crowd noted that ear plugs would not be necessary. But if she had sensitive ears, I hope she held onto the ear plugs. That would come in handy soon enough.
The concert was billed as an acoustic show, part of the Los Angeles band’s ongoing Acoustic en Vivo tour, where Los Lobos dipped deep into their Mexican heritage for material, styles and instruments. And the band did indeed take the stage in full Mexican mode, stopping just short of sombreros. Conrad Lozano, usually the band’s bassist, was on the guitaron, an oversized version of the bass; guitarist David Hidalgo went the opposite direction, cradling a tiny, four-string instrument across his chest. Two other members, Cesar Rosas and Louie Perez, were similarly outfitted with nylon-string instruments, while Steve Berlin stayed offstage with his saxophone. The band, which has made its reputation playing rock ‘n’ roll with equal doses of Latin and experimental accents, was fully in South-of-the-Border mode, playing songs like the Cuban hit “Guantanamera.” Whatever might have been lacking in volume was made up for in energy, technique and the exotic flavor of the sound.
The music, layered only slightly with Los Lobos’ avant-garde mentality, was entrancing, an effect compounded by the few couples attempting Latin dance steps. I found myself missing the band’s electric guitars not at all, thinking the relative mellowness an ideal sound for a Sunday night, and fully appreciating the magnificent vocal skills of the ensemble. And in the back of my mind was the thought: “What would really be great is following the acoustic Latin music with a set of their ripping rock.”
With the band’s own “Chuco’s Cumbia,” that dream started to materialize. One electric guitar found its way to the stage. Berlin appeared, at first with the softer texture of the flute. The drummer took his place behind the kit. Within another two songs, the transition was complete, and those who needed them, and still had them, broke out the earplugs.
Minus the Mexican instruments, Los Lobos could play with or without the Spanish accent. “Luz de Mi Vida,” with Rosas on lead vocals, found them exploring Latin rhythms. A take on the Grateful Dead’s “West L.A. Fadeaway” had them in California garage-band mode, for both good and bad: The band didn’t seem to know the song, and even Hidalgo, who instigated the tune, fumbled badly on the lyrics (making it an even truer copy of the Dead’s typical live version). But the song is a slow, simple blues number, and the lack of familiarity didn’t prevent Rosas, Perez and Hidalgo from trading inventive guitar leads. A version of the Allman Brothers’ “One Way Out” was tighter, and even more blistering.
And perhaps the band was at its best when mixing all its components. For a take on “Kiki and the Lavender Moon,” perhaps their finest original song, Hidalgo picked up an accordion, the drummer played gentle Latin beats, and the band slid into experimental mode as Hidalgo sang about the mysterious, dancing, nocturnal Kiko: “He never stops, can’t catch his breath/ It’s always there, scares him to death.”
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