Los Lobos is the best Rock & Roll band in America. December 15 & 16, they proved it to two sold-out crowds at The Fillmore in San Francisco. Effortlessly moving through Latin, Reggae, Space and all out Rock & Roll, Cesar Rosas and David Hidalgo put the guitars back into Jam. Trading off between lead and rhythm, the guitarists showcase their individual talents while maintaining their “band” mentality. This unselfishness is a rarity in the music world today. The benefits of playing with the same band for over 25 years is illuminated in the tightness of their grooves, a la the Grateful Dead, Phish and String Cheese Incident.
Los Lobos began when four East L.A. high school friends, Hidalgo, Rosas, Louie Perez and Conrad Lozano, started a Rock & Roll band. Interested in learning from their Latino roots, they began trading off between acoustic Latino-Cuban-Tex-Mex music and electric-based Rhythm and Blues. This blending of styles is how they describe the “soundtrack to el barrio.” Add their honorary Chicano, Steve Berlin on Saxophone, and you have the ingredients to Los Lobos’ distinct sound.
Midway through their 90 minute set, Los Lobos’ musical diversity began to shine. Opening with a couple of Spanish songs off their Grammy-winning album La Pistola y El Corazon, the singing and guitar talents excite the appreciative crowd. By the time they hit us with a cover of the Allman Brothers “One Way Out,” we began to understand why Rolling Stone named them the “Best Band in America” at a time when Bruce Springsteen was heading the Rock & Roll world.
Choosing highlights from these two shows is a little like picking your favorite Dead tune. The first night featured great versions of Lobos originals “This Time” and “Cumbia de mi Raza,” as well as covers of Allman Brothers and Bob Marley. But, I believe they saved the best for last. The encore began with the Cuban acoustic classic, “Guantanamera,” sung by Lozano while playing an eight string acoustic bass. As “Guantanamera” came to a close, Hidalgo began to strum the chords to the Grateful Dead classic, “Bertha.” This fifteen-minute version was the perfect ending to one of the best shows I’ve seen this year. Guests for this show included Merl Saunders and Pete Sears.
Picking up where they left off on Friday, Los Lobos maintained the same high level of musicianship. Highlights included the Latin-soul ballad, “La Pistola y El Corazon.” As they mixed acoustic Latin grooves with soulful Spanish singing, you get a sense of why David Hidalgo is so highly respected by his peers, such as Trey Anastasio. Speaking of Phish, Los Lobos also took back one of their own songs, “When the Circus Comes to Town,” and showed the crowd how it’s supposed to be played. Another Lobos’ original, “One Time, One Night,” sparked a spirited 20+ minute jam into Neil Young’s, “Down By the River.” Catfish John joined the band on harmonica.
The walk out of The Fillmore leads you past posters and pictures of some of the greats who have rocked San Francisco... The Grateful Dead, Santana, Janis Joplin. On Saturday night, the crowd left The Fillmore with the feeling that Los Lobos belongs on those walls.
JamBase North Bay Correspondent
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