Los Lobos Live at The Fillmore
During the "Imported from ELA"? documentary section of the new Los Lobos DVD, guitarist/songwriter/singer Cesar Rosas muses on the acts who once opened for his band, such as Melissa Etheridge and Stevie Ray Vaughan, who have gone on to great popularity. He turns away from the camera wryly commenting "not us..."? and it's hard to tell if he's disappointed or proud of that fact. Certainly during the course of their 30 years together, an anniversary celebrated this year, Los Lobos have not compromised heir integrity or identity a whit (and that includes the participation in the "La Bamba" movie enterprise). Quite the contrary as the group has made a point of reasserting heir roots on a regular basis, including an album of all Spanish songs in 1988 ( La Pistola y El Corazon ) as well as their most recent album The Ride.
But the May 2004 cd isn't exactly a reaffirmation of roots so much as a tribute to their tenure together as well as the music, musicians and songwriters who've come to form the basis of a sound like no other rock band around in the new millennium. If there's a criticism to be aimed at the album---and it may be fatuous, make no mistake?"it is that..there's not enough Lobos! With characteristic modesty, the band relegates itself to the role of backup band much of the album to accomodate artists such as Tom Waits, Elvis Costello and Richard Thompson. Though it's a heartfelt tribute to their musicianly sensitivity, you may nevertheless end up hungry for a dose of Los Lobos straight up.
Which is what Ride This: The Covers EP actually constitutes. While a clutch of tunes from the full-length cd appear on the DVD, interspersed with selections back to their earliest records and right up to the most recent studio work Good Morning Aztlan (arguably the group's most powerhouse combination of rock and roots), nothing from this half-hour disc, slipped virtually unannounced into the marketplace this summer, shows up on video. Strictly from a consumer point of view, that's a good thing: buying the DVD and mini-cd forms a fine package where there's virtually no overlap.
There's no real sense the creation of Live at the Fillmore was a rush job (nowithstanding the comments of Rosas and Berlin during the documentary) yet there's a noticeable absence of special features, either in the form of content or technology, apart from the abbreviated documentary. And, as the performance was shot and edited in a somewhat predictable round of individual shots of the band members, the venue and the happy audience, there's nothing fancy going on.
But then, neither is there anything genuinely fancy about Los Lobos: as documented on Ride This, their roots in Mexican music, R&B and blues-rock are unwavering; that's exactly what makes the band's presence so much a pleasure as Lobos sound as fresh as any young band discovering their collective possibilities they do the Mexicali strut with panache on Tom Waits "Jockey Full of Bourbon,"? then give Cesar Rosas the spotlight to croon his way through the bittersweet naiveté that is Bobby Womack's' "More Than I Can Stand."? Rosas reappears in all that soulful glory on Willie G's "?It'll Never Be Over for Me", then gives way to that mountain of a man called David Hidalgo to lead Lobos through the heaviest of heavy blues-rock stomp treatment of Elvis Costello's "Uncomplicated."? As with the equally ominous version of Richard Thompson's "Shoot Out the Lights,"? there's an aura of malevolence about the performance true of all authentic blues, no matter how otherwise jubilant the song but it's a testament to the versatility this group demonstrates on The Ride and this companion piece that, when they turn to move in another direction, namely the speedy shuffle of "Marie Marie,"? they're equally adept at it and no less enthusiastic.
Dave Alvin wrote the latter tune when a member of another famous LA group of the 80's, The Blasters, from whence came saxophonist/keyboardist Steve Berlin to join Los Lobos twenty years ago. Such undercurrents of historical perspective bubble up throughout this DVD. often when you might least expect it, as when Hidalgo's son Conrad plays heavy fuzz guitar on "Viking"? a phenomenon suggesting that Los Lobos, as an ever-changing entity, may very well continue on through their extended families, as depicted in the documentary. Grateful Dead historian Blair Jackson puts the Lobos evolution squarely in a context that mirrors the development of rock and roll since the sixties, as he pinpoints that very juncture the band's development intersected with The Fillmore auditorium itself. And there's tangible sense of tradition too in Los Lobos' proud homage to this place they filmed their DVD: Hidalgo's modesty notwithstanding, Lobos appear as a band who is truly adding something to the original tradition.