By Mike Finkelstein
On Friday night a not quite sold out, but certainly revved up, Greek Theater audience was treated to a most appealing double bill of high profile American Latino rock bands. Beginning their impressive career well over three decades ago, Los Lobos first blazed the trail that Los Lonely Boys now walk. Now, Los Lonely Boys are a hot young act that headlines above Los Lobos. But the two bands are friendly and the members mixed and sat in freely during each others’ sets all evening long. The night’s music was a celebration of blues, Norteno music, rock ‘n roll, and Tejano music, to name but a few of the influences that converge somewhere near the borders of California and Texas with Mexico.
Los Lonely Boys are brothers Henry Garza on guitar, Jojo Garza on bass, and Ringo Garza on drums, out of San Angelo, Texas, and they call their music Texican rock ‘n roll. While they have an appealingly huge, warm, and busy sound, they also manage to give each other a lot of room to flap their instrumental wings at any moment. They aren’t locked into a rigid set of arrangements, but what they play is ultra tight, and they do love to jam. On Friday, these jams percolated and would burst into snips of songs like “Sunshine of Your Love.” As LLB tap an idea around between them – much like kicking a musical hackeysack — these fellows sound as though they have been playing music with each other all their lives. Moreover, when Henry and Jojo sang together it was often in unison. Their voices are different enough to contrast but similar enough to blend as one.
Los Lonely Boys’ songs are based mostly on blues progressions fleshed out with a lot of smooth syncopation. Each song had a lot of room for experimentation. Every idea was laid down, elaborated upon enough to advance the song and then gave way to the next one. The lyrics were mostly about desire as in “Oye Mamacita,” and “Road to Nowhere” or lifting the spirit and making the world a better place, as in as in their huge hit, “Heaven.” Then again, “16 Monkeys” was quite whimsical and playful. It will be intriguing to see where a group this talented will take their songwriting in the future.
No power trio will fly without a charismatic leader who plays hot lead guitar and sings. Henry Garza is cut from this rock star cloth. He is tall with long hair, long arms, long legs, and a very engaging vibe to him onstage. Most importantly he has the sound – the big, sizzling Texas Stratocaster sound made popular by Stevie Ray Vaughan and several others after him. His style on guitar brimmed with showmanship and motion, but he stayed within himself and allowed his sound, rather than an excess of notes, to get the point across. We first got a glimpse of him during Los Lobos set when he walked on and guested on three songs, tearing it up with the Wolves on “Hey Joe,” and “La Bamba/Good Lovin’.”
The power trio is a tried and true lineup in rock which demands that each player cover a lot of musical ground to keep the sound interesting. What actually put LLB over the top instrumentally was Jojo’s bass performance. He plays a six string bass, which gives him chordal possibilities not available on 4- or 5- string basses. In its higher ranges, a six string bass moves into the realm of a baritone guitar, which meant that Jojo could meet his brother Henry in the same tonal registers and then peel off elegantly up or back down to the bass registers. Since a 6 string bass has an extra high and low string Jojo’s lines were riveting, as he skillfully constructed his runs to include the high highs and the low lows. It gave them a modern sound and proved that a six string bass can work beautifully in a rock band.
Los Lobos opened the show, hitting the stage as the sun went down, and powered through favorites like “La Bamba,” “Shakin’ Shakin’ Shakes,” and “Don’t Worry Baby.” Their 90-minute performance also included two runs through “Cumbias,” a high-energy style of Latin dance music. Over the years (30+) the Wolves have built up a very impressive catalogue of songs in both English and Spanish. On Friday no less than four of their tunes were sung in Spanish. “Yo Canto” was a standout and the title cut of their new album Tin Can Trust was mesmerizing. The band has always featured its members changing instruments. While we are used to seeing David Hidalgo switch from guitar to accordion routinely, he actually sat in on drums with the Lonely Boys on “Heaven.” At times the sound system at the Greek didn’t really seem to achieve the separation between the two guitars and Steve Berlin’s baritone sax that it has before. Still, it wasn’t the sort of inconvenience that could stop a band like Los Lobos from making its musical points.
As the show progressed it became clear that this was a double billing of bands who play great music and live to play. The stage was at times a revolving door for members of both bands and their delight in the moment was infectiously obvious. It made for a very special night of music, indeed.
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