Louie Perez strums a jarana, the opening minor-key “Malaque” dusted in accents of flute from multi-instrumentalist Steve Berlin. Dark and probing, David Hidalgo in wondrous melancholy sings of the ruby king, then leads on to the rumbling “Short Side of Nothing,” the first of several from the 1992 masterpiece Kiko. By the time “That Train Don’t Stop Here” stops, guitarist Cesar Rosas has wah-wahed his way through two steaming solos, the rolling thunder of rhythm led by bassist Conrad Lozano and drummer ‘Bugs’ Gonzalez charging smiling and insistent, yielding only for the finishing saxophone drones of Berlin. Three songs into the 90-minute set, and the unfading and unfazed versatility of the six on stage was crystalline clear.
By any standard of measurement, Los Lobos should be considered among the finest rock-and-roll bands America has ever produced. With hit singles, critically-acclaimed albums, and predictably unpredictable live performances that have illuminated an evolving depiction of migrant trails into and beyond the neighborhoods of East L.A., carrying forward customs of courtship dances and influences of post-war Chicago blues, and exhibiting an exceptional combination of both traditional and modern musicianship, the group has earned a deserving, nearly endless supply of respect and admiration from both audiences and peers alike. Here are the wolves, 42 years of faith and resiliency in motion, continually moving onward, in the foothills an hour north of the group’s stomping ground playing the Canyon Club to another capacity house.
Songs chosen at-will emerge from the moment’s inspiration, with tempos rolled back, as on “Will the Wolf Survive?” off the band’s 1984 major label debut, or ramped up as Hidalgo takes on the Grateful Dead’s “Bertha,” giving space to a lively conversation on guitar between Perez and Rosas, before he offers some six-string points of his own. An after-midnight smolder infects “Cumbia Raza” and Kiko’s title track as naturally as the cerveza flows for the Mexican standard “Volver, Volver,” Hidalgo squeezing his accordion as Perez takes a seat behind the drums, to the delight of the many who’d made the trek up Highway 101 from the east side of the city of Angels. Hidalgo’s brother Joe guests on guitar for an impromptu “Dizzy, Miss Lizzy,” with Rosas delivering workmanlike vocals despite admitting he wasn’t sure of all the right words, then sticks around for “Farmer John,” the garage-rock single from The Premiers the Lobos self-released on 7” back in 1981, dipping into Howlin’ Wolf, and hints of Jimi Hendrix, on “Killing Floor,” before “Don’t Worry Baby” shuffled off the night to a temporary close.
Calling the ensemble back to the stage, the largely-seated crowd rose in unison for a pair of encores; the escalating “Mas Y Mas,” and “La Bamba/Good Lovin’,” a vintage rock-and-roll couplet tracing the line back to Richie Valens’ San Fernando Valley and the Young Rascals’ streets of New York City. Into a fifth decade, and with plans for a new studio album possibly this year, Los Lobos is a rare breed in music. It’s fair to say not only have the wolves survived, they are a band that warrants the status of American icon.