Just a few miles away from the East L.A. neighborhood they called home, Los Lobos returned to Southern California for a post-holiday performance with plenty of winks to the festive season. To a nearly-sold out audience at The Rose, the legendary group capped off its 46th year together with an 18-song appearance that incorporated all facets of the band’s history and musical dexterity. Whether on enduring originals, classic covers, or holiday favorites, the wolves of Whittier Boulevard were energetic, loose, and impassioned as ever.
Opening with a mostly ‘unplugged’ arrangement, guitarists David Hidalgo and Cesar Rosas wore their acoustic guitars on “Dream in Blue,” giving the starter track from the legendary Kiko a patient reading, before Rosas shifted to maracas for a grooving, swaying “Maricela.” Steve Berlin, on sax, was an early star, particularly during the acoustic run, joined by Hidalgo flashing his chops on the swinging “Evangeline.” They led the crowd through a brief sing-along on a nod to Ritchie Valens’ “Come On, Let’s Go,” and transitioned to Rosas directing “Choco’s Cumbia.”
Multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Louie Perez delivered a glowing “Saint Behind the Glass,” and ceded to bassist Conrad Lozano for his simmering vocal on “Guantanamera,” as Berlin dropped in accents of flute. Hidalgo offered a beautiful “Teresa,” then turned fully electric for a mid-set jaunt through the Christmas-themed “It’s Christmas in Texas” and “Arbolito de Navidad” bookending the always pleasing “Volver, volver.” A pair of charging originals- “Don’t Worry Baby” and the crunching “Good Morning Aztlan”- provided a turn back to rock before another couplet of holiday classics, including “Donde esta Santa Claus,” closed the book on the seasonal serenades.
Driving the dance floor stomp of “Georgia Slop,” the band powered on through the penultimate “Mas y mas” as Perez took a biting guitar solo. With time for only a single encore, the venerable quintet launched “La Bamba,” and previewed the traditional track they would reprise a few days later as grand finale guests of the city’s iconic Rose Parade on New Year’s Day.
It’s apparent that although Los Lobos has become a durable symbol of the diverse heritage of their home city, they remain a working and vital group still firing at an exceptionally high level. By accessing a catalog that spans over four decades, as well as with an ability to perform a different show every night, the five remain as one of a few artists in rock that continue to surprise with every appearance. There is an intuitive level of comfort the quintet rises to onstage, leaving ample space for each other in improvisations, but always keeping to the underlying spirit of the song. By doing so, Los Lobos can be respectfully cast, and should be revered, as one of America’s last truly great rock and roll bands.