The thing was, we knew Los Lobos was going to encore with “La Bamba” that night. Not because we’d caught a glimpse of the setlist or had spent some time backstage with the band or anything like that – heavens, no. It was simply because we were in Maine (it’s okay for me to say this; I’m from here) and it didn’t matter what else Los Lobos played that Sunday evening in Rockport’s Strom Auditorium – if they didn’t play frigging “La Bamba”, I guarantee there were folks that would be pissed. Seriously pissed. Like, “I-paid-good-money-and-they-didn’t-play-‘La-Bamba’” pissed.
Never mind the low-down greasy groove Los Lobos burrowed into on “Down On The Riverbed”; forget about how I thought Steve Berlin would either blow the bell off his sax or the top off his head during a long, jammed-out “The Neighborhood”; it didn’t matter that Cesar Rosas had made us laugh during a wide-open tear through “I Wanna Be Like You” (from the soundtrack of The Jungle Book ) or that the three-guitar lineup of Rosas, Louie Perez, and David Hidalgo had burned the place up as the band raunched their way into “I Got Loaded” which somehow made a quick detour through “Lovelight” (how did they do that?) before going all crazy-assed Bo Diddley and hammering their way into “Not Fade Away” … and then banging another gear altogether and launching a killer version of “Bertha”.
I mean, come on …
The energy bursting forth from the little hall we were in during that stretch of tunes alone should’ve set the Earth sideways a degree or two. But no – the band had to play the one tune that anyone with a radio probably knew: “La Bamba”. If they didn’t, there would most likely be a riot and the tour bus would get rolled over in the parking lot.
So that was what Los Lobos launched into for their encore: a balls-to-the-wall, foot-to-the-floor romp through “La Bamba” that took a big chance and segued into “Good Lovin’” for a few minutes before skittering back into the old Ritchie Valens classic. (That could’ve proved dangerous in these parts: “That ain’t how you play ‘La Bamba’! What the hell’s goin’ on here?”) La-la-la-la crash/bang/boom – the song ground to a halt and the crowd was back on its feet.
Was that it? Yes?
No – David Hidalgo had looked like he was walking off stage, but he turned back around, his Telecaster still slung over his massive shoulders – and he was grinning as he worked his tuning pegs. This was more than a between-songs tweak: he was cranking his first string and then his sixth downdowndowndown … open D?
I was just turning to Tigger to say something clever like “Look out” or “Hang on” when – WHAM – the band slammed into the unbridled roaring riff that opens Neil Young’s “Cinnamon Girl”. Holy shit. They absolutely nailed the big, thick crunch of the original, with Hidalgo, Perez, Rosas, and bassist Conrad Lozano combining to create a wall of Crazy Horseness. Hidalgo and Perez’ dual vocal recalled Neil and the late Danny Whitten in their finest hour. Verse/break/verse/break – then into the bridge: “Pa sent me money now …” all reckless and ragged and perfect.
And then came the solo, with Hidalgo and Rosas grinding away at the rhythm while Louie Perez broke the heart of every guitar player in the place. Perez was wailing on an old Strat, pounding out that one-string-off-the-other break that’s often referred to as a one-note solo, but it’s the two strings (one being tortured slightly more than the other) that provide the tension we all feel in our bones when we hear it.
But then came the moment – the moment. Midway through his solo, Louie Perez – with his skinny-legged jeans, his black-framed glasses, and his swept-back hair making him look for all the world like the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost of rock ‘n’ roll all rolled into one – stepped up to the mike and let out a little “Whooo …” just like someone (Neil himself?) does on the album version of “Cinnamon Girl”.
I’m telling you: it was perfect.
Roll and tumble and crash – the band lurched to a stop; one more flurry of Neil squeal and honk … and that was it. Game over.
Now that was a cover.