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Lobos Live in Lowell: Ridin' On

Doug Collette By

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Los Lobos' affectionate enthusiasm for their audience is equalled by the musical diversity and instrumental chemistry at their command.
Los Lobos
Boarding House Park
Lowell, Massachusetts
September 1, 2006

Los Lobos should be honored as a national treasure. Appearing in the home of Jack Kerouac near the end of the Massachusetts city's summer music series, this band from East LA displayed an affectionate enthusiasm for their audience that, combined with musical diversity and instrumental chemistry at their command, provided an ever so rare means of inaugurating the autumn.

Outside in the cool late summer early fall air in the middle of Lowell, Lobos let rip right from the start. In contrast to the acoustic concerts the group's played in recent months, this was a high-energy affair beginning with, appropriately enough, "The Neighborhood. Brandishing his Fender most of the evening, the affable but inscrutable David Hidalgo fired off the first of a series of gritty solos the likes of which should've earned him the title of guitar hero years ago.

Flanking him on the opposite end of the stage, as if to symbolize the symmetry in the band's personality, was the irrepressible Cesar Rosas. Slyly masked as usual in dark glasses even as night set in, his consecration of the audience as "music lovers and recognition of the dancers on their feet added a different fuel to the fire that was cooking in the park.

Los Lobos didn't jam extensively or enact long segues September 1st. But if there is anything more enjoyable to experience than a great band in the full flight of improvisation, it's hearing a band build up a full head of steam song by song like "I Walk Alone and "Manny's Bones. Los Lobos kept themselves in control and tight alignment all the way, right down to the cold stops signaled with a flourish by Cougar Estrada.

The young drummer, now sole percussionist for this great group, has much to do with their dynamism, especially as he interacts with Conrad Lozano. The bassist's deep simple lines lock with the kick drum and toms to give tremendous bottom to a sound that was quite clear even in the open air. It was only when Hidalgo donned the accordion for "Kiko, just at the right time for a change of pace, that charter member of Lobos Louie Perez forsook his guitars for drums (once his permanent spot in the lineup) and his lighter fluid attack recalled, appropriately enough for tunes such as "Maria Christina, the early days of the band playing traditional Mexican music at weddings and local gatherings.

Clearly Los Lobos haven't forgotten, much less forsaken, their roots (including those that stretch into garage rock and punk). The new album "The Town and The City" from which they introduced three cuts, is the story of their exploration into a new world made universal in a well-wrought song cycle. "Chuco's Cumbia and "The Road to Gila Bend each spoke eloquently about stages of that journey, the former with Spanish effervescence buoyed by Rosas' delivery, the latter, like "Hold On, a more atmospheric blues rendered sensitively but with the appropriate strength by Hidalgo.

These novel originals sounded as well practiced as standards of the Lobos repertoire. With the often requested and eventually played "Mas y Mas, the band entered overdrive, in part through the inclusion of the horn section and percussionist of opener Jen Kearney's Lost Onion band (the frontwoman joined in on the uproarious "Cumbia Raza ). Now a ten- piece band, Los Lobos pumped their way with abandon through their sole mainstream hit "La Bamba within which they interpolated "Good Lovin'.

And who but Los Lobos would invite upwards of thirty audience members on stage to sing, dance and effectively obscure the band itself from sight? Not only that, but all of those invitees would leave the stage without hassle as the band climaxed its set proper. The good natured mien of the audience is a direct reflection of Los Lobos and their fundamental generosity, another aspect of which they exhibited with a lengthy encore, backing Barrence Whitfield on vocals for "Hey Joe and "Baby What You Want Me to do?

The breadth of the band's influences, from Jimi Hendrix to earthy R&B becomes all the more astonishing when you hear the ease and finesse with which they move from genre to genre. Lobos' own fluid chemistry is as impressive in the lysergic-laced licks from Hidalgo on the former as the redemptive joy that emanated from the latter (notwithstanding the overwrought delivery from Massachusetts semi-legend Whitfield). Steve Berlin's guttural sax work was a joy throughout the evening, not just when he was interacting with three other horn men at the close of the show.

While much of the Commonwealth crowd seemed to be present out of habit and/or just for the sake of curiosity, virtually no one was left sitting by the time Los Lobos had asked them to stand before roaring to the close of their two hour set. The power of great music takes many forms, as a dynamic Los Lobos demonstrated here in no uncertain terms, with all due versatility at their disposal.

Richard Tafoya/


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