Los Lobos at The Barre Opera House

Doug Collette By

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Los Lobos
Barre Opera House
Barre, Vermont
January 28, 2017

Without playing virtually any of their best known material-no "La Bamba" or "How Will the Wolf Survive?"-Los Lobos thoroughly charmed and eventually won the hearts (and minds no doubt) of a Vermont crowd January 28. This even after a "Wanna get away moment?" for guitarist Cesar Rosas when, early in the evening, he came right out and asked his audience where he and his bandmates were? !

No one in the comfortable venue held the faux pas against this man of the perpetual dark glasses, in part because he's such an affable soul (which he continued to be as the two and a quarter hour show progressed) and in part because he lends so much to the performances of this great band from East Los Angeles.

Practically speaking too, it makes sense to forgive Rosas since he missed Lobos' last visit to the Green Mountains, in September 2015, at the Rusty Nail in Stowe. While it's not really fair to compare the two shows, one in a combination club/bar, the other in the more formal setting of this intimate auditorium, there was no mistaking the sextet firing on all cylinders this mid-winter night in central Vermont, even if from an usually indirect perspective.

Ever so unassumingly taking up their instruments after a halting introduction, the group played a modified electric blues, "Up the Line," to insinuate itself into groove that immediately deepened when, led by Rosas as is his wont with such authentic Mexican musical strains, Lobos proceeded with the cumbia called "Poquito Para Aquí." "Wicked Rain" allowed guitarist/vocalist Davis Hidalgo his first solo, not exactly an extended one, but his playing on the Gibson he soon traded for a Fender for the duration of the evening further roused the long-in-the-tooth admirers eager to applaud a band they'd clearly been following for some time.

Eschewing even the Jimi Hendrix-influenced material so prominent on their most recent studio album Gates of Gold, (429 Records, 2015), Los Lobos didn't delve particularly deep or wide into their forty-year plus discography. Yet even as the group preferred the less-known likes of "Maricela," the musicianship still resounded throughout the hall, a credit to the band and the venue that the deeply spacious, layered sound the group achieves in the studio comes across in a live setting

Seemingly just about to hit its stride with the combination of "The Big Ranch" and "(Set me Free) Rosalie," Rosas announced "a pause for the cause" at around the forty minute mark and the band took a break. Seemingly well-familiar with such abbreviated first sets from past experience, the house relish the respite, no doubt like the group itself, all of whom were ready to pick right up where they left off twenty-minutes or so later, with a heavy rocking "Viking."

Here it was Los Lobos truly fed off the enthusiasm of the devoted attendees. Hidalgo offered the pit directly in front of the stage for dancing, and as the area immediately filled up before him, the bobbing, weaving and waving concertgoers clearly energized the musicians. On a clutch of numbers where Hidalgo shouldered his accordion. the group picked up speed with Louie Perez at the drums, this after the title tune from Los Lobos most famous album "Kiko," conjured up something of a dream-like air.

Lobos then proceeded to ratchet up the intensity with "Don't Worry Baby" and "We're Gonna Rock," and while this peppy interval of roots rock, highlighted by the earthy sax of multi-instrumentalist Steve Berlin, perhaps sounded quaint to a select few remaining in their seat, there was no disputing how effective it was in setting up the band's sly insinuation into the Grateful Dead's "Bertha."

Delayed but no less hearty recognition of the iconic band's tune gave way to an expectant air as Lobos slowed down for an evocative instrumental interlude, which Hidalgo proffered as a tribute to the recently-deceased drummer of the Allman Brothers Band, Butch Trucks; a melange of "Mountain Jam" motifs interwoven with themes of ABB staple "You Don't Love Me," along with the melody of "Will the Circle Be Unbroken," led tantalizingly back to the de rigeur Lobos set closer.

The furious finish that ensued found the band forging a decided ebb and flow based on the stop-and-go reggae rhythm of "Pawn Shop," the initial encore number (a Wailing Souls cover by way of Sublime). And while the sustained singalong by the audience during this number may have caught the musicians somewhat off guard, no one was more surprised than bassist Conrad Lozano at its conclusion: he was doffing his instrument and about to thank the audience as nimble, hard-hitting drummer Enrique "Bugs" Gonzales launched the syncopated intro to "Mas y Mas."

At this point, Los Lobos were off and running again, this time to an appropriately frenetic finish clearly illustrating that, while they didn't improvise to great lengths within their chosen setlist this evening, they turned their entire performance into an improvisation within which those who populated the Barre Opera House participated wholeheartedly..

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