By Mike Finkelstein
Northridge, CA. For several years now, Los Lobos and Los Lonely Boys have been touring together to the continuing satisfaction of their solid fan bases. Sometimes Los Lobos headlines, other times Los Lonely Boys headlines. The two bands teamed up Saturday night at the Valley Performing Arts Center on the CSUN campus for a fun evening of shared music with Los Lobos closing the show.
Saturday’s performance was a loud one. While most rock concerts are going to be that way, it’s noteworthy that the Valley Performing Arts Center doesn’t often present louder rock concerts. The VAC is a gorgeous building but the interior of the main auditorium is comprised mostly of wooden walls and baffles designed to direct the sound optimally. It seems that this actually works best for softer performances with lower volumes. The sound rattled around inside noticeably on Saturday night, reducing the high ends to a sizzling hiss. It was way too challenging just to make out the lyrics of the tunes.
While Los Lobos have been together in excess of forty years, Los Lonely Boys have been at it for nearly 20 years themselves (!). And one would think that as he band’s three brothers — Ringo, Jojo, and Henry Garza — were growing up in San Angelo, Texas they had to be inspired by the success they saw Los Lobos have playing any style of music they wanted to – masterfully and to huge acceptance. So touring with them and knowing them is coming full circle. After LLB closed their hour-long opening set, their equipment stayed where it was. It only stays if it’s going to be used later on, after all. The LLB’s were far from done.
Throughout the evening nearly all the members of each band came out to play with their touring buddies. The frontlines of both groups are all multi-instrumental so they could and did play drums or percussion as well as their guitars, regional stringed instruments, and accordions.
Aside from their ace musicianship, one of the biggest appeals of Los Lobos is how they have consistently embraced all their musical influences and worked them into the repertoire. Whether it’s traditional Mexican folk music, blues-rock, rockabilly, folk, pop or country, these guys will play it like no one else’s business and on Saturday night we got a bit of everything. In a song like “Kiko and the Lavender Moon,” it all came together. There was a simple but driving bass line, and between the lyrics, Berlin’s baritone sax, David Hidalgo’s accordion, and the timbre of his and Cesar Rojas’ voices the atmosphere was something to get lost in.
Having grown come up in LA in the late 60’s/early 70’s the guys in Los Lobos got to immerse themselves in all the exceptional music of those times on the radio and with vinyl records. Then they added the traditional music that was around them in the neighborhood. It makes for a uniquely rich blend of styles. Whatever the wolves play it never sounds remotely like a stretch. They do the blues-rock style very well, with songs like “Shakin’, Shakin’, Shakes,” and “Don’t Worry Baby.” Rojas’ guitar, in particular, was in the sweet spot for these tunes. His amp was ready to jump off the chair! But it was the Los Lobos rhythm section of Conrad Lozano on bass and Enrique Gonzalez on drums, wound tight and swinging, which took it to a different level. Can’t say enough good things about the power of the bass and drums being dialed in. As bass players who lay down a great groove for each tune go, Conrad Lozano is exemplary. He was grinning ear to ear for the whole ride on Saturday.
About half way through Los Lonely Boys’ opening set, Hidalgo (guitar), Berlin (baritone sax), and Perez (guitar) sat in with the band. Afterwards, bassist Jojo Garza admitted that every time they get to jam with the wolves it’s a dream come true for himself and his brothers. The good vibe was obvious on all the faces onstage. It was a night built on the simple joy of playing music with your friends for people who are right there with you.
The evening ended with a blistering version of “La Bamba.” We’ve all heard this song many times and probably noticed how much it sounds like “Twist and Shout.” But it is an historic tune. Although it’s a traditional Mexican folk song, it was made enormously popular by Ritchie Valens, of Pacoima, in the ‘50’s when he gave it a rock ‘n roll treatment. Los Lobos made the song a customized rock ‘n roll hit again when the movie about Valens’ tragic life came out in the late 80’s. So, it was only fitting that Henry Garza and Cesar Rojas would raise the bar to pump each other up trading hot solos in the middle of the tune. Both men and the audience, too, were having a blast … which is just what we all showed up for.