Los Lobos The Flynn Center for the Performing Arts Burlington VT October 1, 2014
Los Lobos are celebrating four decades together by returning to their acoustic roots on tour in support of their live release of late last year, Disconnected in New York (Shout Factory, 2013). And the band certainly celebrated on their return to Burlington after a five year absence, offering an progressively loose and raucous performance that nevertheless never lost its decidedly intimate mood for the course of the two sets.
Perhaps because he had missed the previous two stops due to a personal matter, guitarist/vocalist Cesar Rosas lost no time in exhorting the crowd to lose its inhibitions to dance and singalong, acting as a role model of unself-conscious joyful expression with his throaty lead vocals and, even more so, through his repeated blues-based guitar solos. Often as not stepping to the front of the stage and out of the minimal lighting that distinguished a total (and wholly welcome) absence of stage production, Rosas' outgoing high-spirited demeanor brought exhortations from the diverse audience as well as his bandmates, ultimately leading to both guitarists, David Hidalgo and Louie Perez, taking a seat at the drum kit late in the second set.
These spontaneous intervals were perhaps a bit too much of the kind, at least insofar as they sacrificed the stylish and energetic presence of drummer Enrique "Bugs" Gonzalez. Not that either Hidalgo or Perez were lacking in skillafter all, the latter functioned as Lobos main percussionist for many a yearbut only that the panache of their (comparatively) youthful comrade added so much punch to the music, literally and figuratively, on a night when the sound in this elegant venue didn't quite match its renovated beauty or the focus of the band itself.
Many of the nuances multi-instrumentalist Steve Berlin adds to the sound of Lobos, on keyboards, sax and percussion, were lost, as was a clarity in Hidalgo's lead singing, and to a lesser extent in Rosas.' And while the sparkling precision of the latter pair's guitar work was ever-present, the deep resonance in Conrad Lozano's basswork, was hardly noticeable.
Not that this relatively minor technical shortcoming lessened the impact of the band's playing. Far from it as the sextet charged to the end of their forty-five minute opening set with "I Walk Alone" and "That Train Don't Stop Here. " While this unexpectedly abbreviated interlude left some audience members baffled, a far greater number were no doubt among those hollering during second half of the performance for "How Does the Wolf Survive," a request to which Los Lobos graciously acceded in homage to Burlington's and, by extension, the state of Vermont's, independent spirit.
While a good portion of the crowd gleefully and quite capably sang along to the crowd-pleasing encore of "La Bamba," rendered closer to its authentic Latin-American roots than the hit from eighties movie of the same name, even more energetic still was the first encore number delivered after a rousing demand for Lobos return to the stage at the end of the second set proper.
In response to Rosas' query for fans of Sir Doug's music (to which the good-natured Lozano immediately raised his hand), Los Lobos' rollicking rendition of the Sahm Quintet's mid-sixties hit "She's About A Mover" served as the punctuation mark on the practical and passionate versatility the band had displayed throughout this peak autumn evening as well as the demonstrative appreciation they were accorded.
Those precious few early attendees who left at intermission missed what may turn out to be one of the high-water marks of the 2014-2015 Flynn Center season.