When David Hidalgo dug into the resolving guitar solo during “Tin Can Trust,“ everything – the sound system, the band and the audience – came together.
And from that moment, two-thirds of the way through Los Lobos’ opening song in a sold out Memorial Hall in Cincinnati, the band from East L.A. (or three-fifths of it anyway) did what it does best – played a roiling gumbo of musical styles comprised of covers and originals, of English- and Spanish-language songs, for the fans guitarist Cesar Rosas affectionately refers to as music lovers.
With woodwind-blowing, percussion-bashing and keyboard-playing whiz kid Steve Berlin off doing his thing with the Flesh Eaters and Hidalgo’s in-the-pocket-bassist/son, Vincent, filling in for the absent – and non-traditional bass player – Conrad Lozano, this was a more-aggressive-than-usual Los Lobos. Hidalgo, Rosas and fellow guitarist Louie Pérez – who also played acoustic guitar, jarana and drums – used their axes to fill in where Berlin’s saxes would have been on tracks like “Mas y Mas” and “Wicked Rain” and traded lengthy and grimy solos like grizzled bluesmen on the slow-burning “Chains of Love.”
This was a rare, single-set show. And the band figuratively rattled the 110-year-old rafters inside the intimate, 556-seat venue from the first note to the last.
Rosas, the southpaw with the trademark shades and goatee, and Hidalgo, the towering righty who also plays a mean squeezebox, blended not only their instruments, but their voices, the former’s smooth, deep vocals mixing beautifully with the latter’s soaring tenor for 90 minutes of music from one of America’s best live bands.
This was mostly a throwback show; the band relied heavily on material from the 1980s and ‘90s, such as Hidlago’s Americana rocker “Will the Wolf Survive?” and folksy “Emily” and Rosas’ rockabilly “Shakin’, Shakin’ Shakes.” Appropriately titled, this number had the audience members up front – ever conscious of their brothers and sisters behind them – shimmying in their seats and standing to applaud between numbers.
Los Lobos visited the 21st century – and Rosas’ stock in trade – on a bone-crushing “Chuco’s Cumbia.” It would’ve been a singalong if the audience had been bilingual.
Rosas and Hidalgo were chatty and upbeat, asking the audience for Mexican restaurant recommendations, mentioning Lozano’s MIA status and jokingly dedicating a suite of songs to Frankie Yankovic as Hidalgo picked up his accordion and Pérez replaced Bugs González behind the kit for a trio of traditional numbers such as “Volver Volver.” The south-of-the-border detour led to the home stretch, and the audience couldn’t remain seated any longer.
“Bertha” emerged out of a Bo Diddley beat as the Wolves put their own spin on the beloved Grateful Dead track. In contrast, Neil Young’s “Cinnamon Girl” was a virtually note-perfect recreation that led to the oft-called-upon closing segue of “La Bamba”->“Good Lovin’”->“La Bamba” to wrap the show.
Even short-handed and with Hidalgo at less than 100 percent – he stopped playing and started coughing at one point, dropping out of the mix for a couple of minutes to towel off and catch his breath – Los Lobos, now 45 years into a criminally under-recognized career, are capable of blowing away even veteran fans on any given night. They did just that on Jan. 25 in the Queen City.