“Los Lobos” originally came on the National scene in 1984 when their first major record label album, How Will The Wolf Survive? was released and produced the title song that was in FM radio rotation. The group originally formed in East Los Angeles in 1973 and underwent an evolution as they merged traditional Mexican music with rock & roll and a variety of other genres including blues, folk, jazz, Tex-Mex and Roots Rock. Over the ensuing decades “Los Lobos” has produced two dozen albums and recorded for a couple dozen different film and album projects. Their last album was in 2015 when Gates of Gold was released, so tonight’s show was for hard core fans.
The historic Aladdin Theater where the show was taking place is one of best mid-sized venues in Portland, Oregon and it was sold out and packed to capacity with rabid fans of all ages, on Thursday, February 15, 2018. There was no opening act and the show sequence was posted on the box office window. An evening with “Los Lobos” was to begin at 8:00 PM for a forty-five minute set, with a twenty minute intermission, and then an hour long set.
The show kicked off at 8:00 PM sharp with “Someday,” off their debut album and then segued into “Maricela” a Latin composition sung in Spanish, to the poly rhythmic beat. “Papa Was A Rolling Stone” began with guitar picking that was soon escalated into a triad of guitars with Rosas, Perez and Hildago joining in together with the rest of the band joining in as the sound became enveloping and then a medley began as the tune changed to “The Train Don’t Stop Here Anymore,” with the crowd singing the chorus back to the band. The band moved effortlessly through each song with Berlin wailing on his baritone sax, as Bugs, the drummer kept the beat going, thump, thump, thump, bang, bang, boom when all the guitars took over and joyously played off each other. “Colossal Head” from 1996’s self titled album gave Berlin the opportunity to demonstrate the dominance of his instrument in the Los Lobos sound.
Los Lobos is a real kick because they incorporate rock & roll in its various incarnations over the decades reaching back to its Country/Blues roots along with Tex/Mex and Mariachi influences. It doesn’t really matter whether they are performing “La Pistola Y El Corazon” in Spanish or “West L.A. Fadeaway” by the Grateful Dead the music resonates in your solar plexus. Steve Berlin’s baritone sax adds a punch to every song that gives it a distinct sound and libido drive. David Hildago was in fine form as he sang and wailed on lead guitar, until Rosas took over and then the two of them jammed to the lopping beat of the “Grateful Dead.” The first set ended and a short intermission allowed whoever wanted to a chance to go outside and take a few hits off their pipe before the next set.
When the band returned to the stage, Cesar urged the audience, “come one you all, help us out,” when he raised his hands in the air clapping and telling the crowd that they walk the dog in Chicago, Illinois.” They gave tribute to Little Walter with a stellar blues performance with Hildago once again raging on lead guitar as Steve Berlin blew his harmonica in tandem, with Bug’s the drummer furiously hammering the skins until they segued into “Wicked Rain,” with Hildago singing.
“Rain, rain, rain, a wicked rain
Falling from the sky.”
The other times that this writer has seen the band Cesar Rosas sang and played lead guitar on this number, but today, Hildago started out and then he and Rosas alternated on lead guitar with ear splitting solos. The show was comprised of nearly two dozen songs from their albums covering their entire career and Cesar kept asking the crowd, “are you doin’ alright? Are you sure?” Then he answered his own rhetorical question, “we are, we’re still rockin’ in the free world.” Then they began playing “The Train Don’t Stop Here Anymore,” again with Cesar playing lead until Hildago took over and went into fast finger picking coupled with low frequency feedback guitar runs. Then Cesar tepped forward and jammed on the edge of the stage, looking upward towards heaven while he shredded his guitar as it ascended into a high pitch joined by Hildago and then the rest of the band. Rosas announced, “we got bugs on the drums as he did a short solo demonstrating his prowess, but without excess. The sold out venue was packed to the rafters with screaming fans, who sang along on the chorus – “The Train Don’t Stop Here Anymore.” s
“Kiko and the Lavender Moon” from their 1992 Masterpiece concept album, Kiko, was one of the highlights of the show. Hildago played an accordion with Steve Berlin on the Melodica and together they jammed. Then Cesar asked the crowd once more before beginning the next song in Spanish, “are you with us?” The band broke into a traditional sounding Mariachi song, “Maricela,” with Louis Perez, the original drummer, now on guitar, replacing Bugs, who stood to the side with a snare drum. Berlin created an underlying musical atmosphere with his baritone sax as he and Hildago played alongside each other with the sound ascending into the heavens. After a couple of songs Bugs took back over on drums and Perez returned to his guitar. “Not Fade Away” by Buddy Holly was the next song with the entire band jamming on it.
“I’m gonna tell you how it’s gonna be
You’re gonna give your love to me
Love is loving and not fade away.”
The crowd sang back the chorus when the band quit singing and then they switched over to Tom Petty’s “Don’t Come Round Here Anymore.” By this time this writer realized that the set list that he got was completely worthless, since the band deviated from it so much. The band was jamming to high heaven and the audience was in ecstasy since this is why they come to see Los Lobos in the first place. Although they aren’t a jam band in the technical sense, they like to jam and their rock guitar assault coupled with their East L. A. Latino perspective of rock & roll allows them to create a unique sound.
Their back drop for the night was simply the purple house curtains hanging behind them with lilting images of their album covers. Rosas and Hildago traded off guitar riffs as they jammed on a medley of rock & roll hits until the show concluded at 10:00 PM. After a few minutes of foot stomping and applause the band returned to the stage for an encore. Cesar thanked the crowd as they dove into Peter Green era Fleetwood Mac blues song as the band jammed for another ten minutes and ended early enough for everyone to get to bed before midnight so they could get enough sleep before work the next day.
Review by Bob Gersztyn