Why Aren’t You Listening To Los Lobos?

Published on October 21st, 2010 in: Concert Reviews, Current Faves, Music |

By J Howell

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Photo © 2010 David Haggard

Folly Theater, Kansas City MO
October 8, 2010

I wasn’t quite sure exactly what to expect when Los Lobos made a stop in Kansas City, at the beautiful and ancient Folly Theater, other than a vague confidence that whatever was in store would be good.

I admit; I’m a rather recent convert when it comes to Los Lobos. I’d always heard good things about them over the years, and was mindful of David Hidalgo’s contributions to Tom Waits’ Bone Machine (one of my favorite records ever), but it wasn’t until finally coming around to Hidalgo and Louie Perez’s stellar side project, Latin Playboys, that I finally took the time to check into Los Lobos . . . and damned if I didn’t feel dumb for not paying attention sooner.

The show had been billed locally as an acoustic set, and while Los Lobos is admittedly amazing on any number of instruments, acoustic or electric, I was a little disappointed at the prospect of missing out on the idiosyncratic, amped-up, experimental side of the band. Yet, I was quite pleased with a set that included a little bit of everything the band is known for, Telecasters and Les Pauls included.

There was indeed a large portion of the set that was largely acoustic, mostly the first few numbers, with songs like “La Pistola y El Corazon” displaying the dynamic, skillful interplay between seasoned musicians for which the band is revered. Of the acoustic songs, many were in the cumbia style, and all were performed beautifully. For a relative newcomer to Los Lobos’ sizable back catalog, there were a number of songs I was unfamiliar with, but I enjoyed them just the same.

Oddly enough, when the band plugged in and performed tracks from their latest, Tin Can Trust, it seemed that a large portion of the audience was unfamiliar, while I—having had the record lodged in my iPod for a good chunk of this year—felt right at home with songs like “On Main Street” and “West L.A. Fadeaway.”

It’s worth noting that, while the band was amazing, there were a couple of technical snafus during the set, such as a mic boom collapsing mid-solo, falling right into Steve Berlin’s baritone sax at one point, and Louie Perez having some troubles with the lovely, black, Bigsby-equipped Telecaster he played much of the evening. Like the seasoned pros they are, though, they took it all in stride, and it was especially eye-opening to see Perez take his turn soloing with co-guitarists Hidalgo and Cesar Rosas on the aforementioned “West L.A. Fadeaway.” Given that he was obviously having some tuning issues with the instrument, when Perez’s turn came around, he pulled off an absolutely amazing solo, handily holding his own with his band mates.

Throughout the evening, the band’s banter with the audience was charming, and I was pleasantly surprised at how affable Rosas is in person. Maybe it’s the ever-present shades and rather serious look he usually sports in press photos, but onstage Rosas was particularly warm, funny, and quite gracious. Hidalgo was similarly personable on stage, as the band started a bit of debate with the crowd regarding the best barbeque in K.C.

Overall, the band was predictably great for the 90-plus minutes of their set, which also included a spooky, accordion-driven version of “Kiko and the Lavender Moon” and ended with an encore of “La Bamba” mashed up against the Rascal’s “Good Love,” which are so similar it’s kind of hard not to think that the Rascals may have ripped Richie Valens off.

Live, Los Lobos were great. Here’s the thing, though: for a band that is easily one of the best in America, and have been for quite some time now, it seems that they’re flying under the radar of a sizable segment of the music-listening population who would otherwise adore them. While it was heartening to see that there were obviously longtime fans present at the Folly, it seemed the average age of the audience was 55 or so.

While there’s nothing wrong with that, for a band that manages a spectacular hybrid of multiple varieties of traditionalism and risk-taking experimentalism, these guys should be getting more of the respect and attention of listeners of all ages. It’s hard to imagine that much of the younger audience of say, Tom Waits (or for that matter, Tom Petty, as Los Lobos’s appeal is pretty wide) wouldn’t be enamored of the band’s deft mix of heart, smarts, and exceptional musicianship.

Los Lobos has soul and brains in spades, and it’s past time they received the props they more than deserve.

Be sure to catch Los Lobos on tour through December and check out their latest, Tin Can Trust, released August 3 from Shout! Factory.

Los Lobos Tour Dates:
October 17-24 Rhythm & Blues Cruise (departing from San Diego, CA)
November 4 Cleveland, OH @Cleveland Masonic Auditorium
November 6 Chicago, IL @Vic Theater
December 1 Dallas, TX @Granada Theatre
December 3 Austin, TX @One World Theatre
December 31 New York, NY @City Winery

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