Los Lobos/David Lindley :: 12.06.08 :: Fillmore Auditorium :: San Francisco, CA
What shone forth from the first notes of their lengthy set, kicked off by the buoyant “One Time One Night,” was the profound enthusiasm they possess for their music. There was never a moment’s question about their enjoyment in engaging with their catalog in front of a live audience. Los Lobos funnels ’50s rugcutters, Tejano bounce, acid dipped psychedelia, Dead style jamming, pungent funk and way more through their well-tooled sieve. What remains is juicy with enough pulp to remind you of the fruit and the hands that crushed it for your enjoyment. With massive confidence and focused determination, David Hidalgo (vocals, guitars), Louie Pérez (vocals, guitars), Conrad Lozano (bass, vocals), Cesar Rosas (guitars, vocals), Steve Berlin (keys, horns) and longtime tour percussionist Cougar Estrada rattled like full grown men with music in their bones, a quiet giant happily plying their craft, right there for anyone to see and enjoy. But even at their own concert, they never went out of their way to draw undo attention to anything, the songs arriving with humility, professionalism and party sparking excitement. It didn’t take long before I tried to kick myself in the ass for having last seen them in concert almost 10 years ago.
Another master musician, David Lindley kicked off the evening with a marvelous solo set that offered myriad lessons in storytelling and the value of tradition tending – if you were one of the few people who shut up long enough to take in Lindley’s no frills roots seminar. Most of the room was probably unaware that the 75th anniversary of the repeal of prohibition had occurred the night before, but that didn’t stop the alcohol loosened chatter from drowning out much of the many subtleties in Lindley’s gorgeously picked, globe trotting tales of drifters, meth makers and broken hearts. Looking like a cross between Rasputin and a lawn gnome is his “traditional” Hawaii Five-O meets hippie chic look, Lindley made the big ol’ Fillmore stage seem like his living room, all comfortable and intimate, but again, only if you actively leaned in a bit. Your reward for meeting him halfway was slide work that’d make Duane Allman do a jig, Appalachian hollers torn out over fiery string bouzouki playing, mandocello instrumentals reminiscent of Michael Hedges and John Renbourn, great road stories and more than a few gallows style yucks, all delivered with a curious mixture of super serious musicianship and carney showmanship.
By the time Los Lobos ambled out, the hall was pretty well lit up, wine and cocktails getting more precarious as people stumbled around in search of their pals under the pale purple light of The Fillmore chandeliers, which gave the space the feel of a high school dance or some yesteryear boy-girl mixer when Cesar Rosas fired up one of his Chuck Berry worthy nuggets like the sax blurt and rapid fire note storm of “Evangeline.” There’s perhaps nothing better than a band that makes fully grown, 401K watchin’ adults loosen the hell up. Los Lobos accomplishes this by their welcoming presence and songs that manage to be both radio-friendly welcoming (in many cases) and lightly experimental.
Such is the full bloomin’ sweep of a great American band, and Los Lobos joins Railroad Earth in being one of the few true standard bearers for what Garcia and his brothers started in S.F. in the ’60s. What Los Lobos brings in, just as Railroad and the Dead do, is their own local echoes, the peculiarities that form the tendrils they reach out into the soundscape with. They are very much creatures of East L.A. and one hears the Fania singles and Tex-Mex oom-pah-pah of their childhoods. But they also manhandle forces as diverse as Brian Eno and The Who (this night touched on with a delightfully brutal cover of “My Generation”). At the stage where most bands with their tenure are settled into comfortable, lucrative pockets there remains a strong artistic itch to Los Lobos. The kernel of inspiration that brought them into a band in the first place flourishes inside the mighty organism they’ve grown into.
Los Lobos will celebrate New Year’s Eve in Tucson, AZ; complete tour dates available here.
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