March 17, 2015 Los Lobos spice up The Space at Westbury, NY 3-5-15 w/ Alejandro Escovedo
Los Angeles, California’s Los Lobos has been bringing their fiery blend of Roots Rock, Soul, Blues, R&B, and traditional Mexican music to audiences for over four decades now. Vocalist/guitarist David Hidalgo and drummer Louie Perez became fast friends in high school in the early ’70s after discovering they had the same taste in music. Growing up in a Mexican-American neighborhood in East Los Angeles, their love for singer-songwriters, Folk music, and early Rock and Roll made them outsiders among their classmates. Their first official release, 1984’s How Will The Wolf Survive, received praise from critics and scored four out of five stars from Rolling Stone magazine, eventually making it on Rolling Stone’s “100 Best Albums of the Eighties” list. Nineteen-eighty-seven found the band with a number one single after their cover of the Ritchie Valens classic “La Bamba,” from the film of the same name, rocketed to the top of the charts, putting the band in the national spotlight. Since then, the band has released over a dozen albums and toured the world relentlessly. With each release, the band’s propensity for coupling uniquely original takes on a wide variety of musical styles has made them darlings in the often cruel world of album reviews. Now, with a lineup that features Hidalgo, Perez, Cesar Rosas (vocals, guitar), Conrad Lozano (vocals, bass), Steve Berlin (keys, horns), and Enrique Gonzalez (percussion, drums), Los Lobos came to The Space at Westbury, NY on a snow-filled evening, Thursday March 5th, for a reprieve from Winter.
Opening the night was Mexican American singer-songwriter Alejandro Escovedo. On the scene for over thirty years himself, Escovedo brought his distinctive blend of stripped down Roots Rock, Alternative, and Country with Punk overtones to the stage as he sang and played acoustic guitar, accompanied by Warren Hood on fiddle. Escovedo opened his set with the fiery “Sally Was a Cop,” a Latin-tinged number about the pitfalls of the Mexican drug war. The plaintive “Five Hearts Breaking” followed with Hood and Escovedo playing a scintillating harmonic melody on guitar and fiddle with a brash solo from Hood for the outro. “Bottom of the World” saw Escovedo picking up the pace with an upbeat, Rock-oriented number in the style of Elvis Costello and Warren Zevon; quirky, smart-aleck lyrics included. Escovedo closed the set with “Chelsea Hotel 78,” which he introduced with a story of the song’s inspiration, this being the time he spent in the eponymous hotel at the same time as Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen. Here, Escovedo managed to deliver a full on Punk assault on acoustic guitar with aggressive, sped-up chords and the angst ridden refrain, “It makes no sense/it makes perfect sense.” Escovedo paid tribute to the wide array of music that has influenced his own unique sound as he performed a set featuring an unusual blend of styles that is worth checking out.
After a brief intermission, fans waited for Los Lobos to take the stage. Opening their set in unusual fashion, they glided through a cover of The Grateful Dead’s “West LA Fadeaway.” In fact, this was the first of two Grateful Dead songs the band would cover during the performance. Hidalgo pulled double duty on the track as he sang the lead vocals and whizzed through all the guitar solos. He followed each chorus with an intricate, meandering, jazzy guitar run, which quickly settled back into the melody with ease. Rosas then took over the mic for the blistering “I Walk Alone,” which features a breakneck shuffle on drums, which set the tone for the Blues rave-up. A classic, fuzzed out Blues riff chugged along throughout as he sang with Rosas, Hidalgo, and Perez taking turns on the solos. This feverish pitch brought the seated crowd to its feet, where they would remain for the rest of the night.
Spicing up the already fun show, Alejandro Escovedo and Warren Hood joined the band on stage for two songs shortly into the set. The first, “The Rebel Kind,” was a song that appeared on the 1986 self-titled effort and only release from Escovedo’s former band, True Believers. Here, the band, Escovedo, and Hood laid down a jangly Garage Rock number echoing the best of mid-sixties, no frills, lo-fi, simple Rock and Roll. This segued into Los Lobos’ “The Giving Tree” with Hidalgo on vocals, Escovedo providing the rhythm on acoustic guitar, and Hood in the spotlight, drawing roars from the crowd as he provided both the lead and intense solos on fiddle throughout.
With a bouncy, walking bass line, “That Train Don’t Stop Here Anymore” was another showcase of the band’s expertise in the Blues. Rosas’ raspy, lovelorn vocals were backed by classic Blues organ from Berlin, while he pulled out all the stops with various pedals and effects to lay down a solo that screamed heavy 60’s Psych Blues. Stepping away from the organ, Berlin closed out the track with a scorching saxophone solo. The band then changed gears with the bouncy “A Matter of Time,” an up-tempo Pop-tinged number with Berlin’s saxophone featured heavily throughout as he meandered along throughout the number, not quite out front, but not exactly in the background either as he provided an excellent counter to the jangly guitars of the melody.
“I got a request for this one,” Hidalgo announced as he strapped on an accordion, and Berlin started playing the haunting organ intro to “Kiko and the Lavender Moon” from the band’s seminal 1992 release, Kiko . Gonzalez provided a steady beat on the cowbell, and then, to the crowd’s delight, Hidalgo squeezed out the Mexican Folk music inspired notes on the accordion. Hidalgo and Rosas sang the entire song together, crafting a powerful harmony throughout as Hidalgo’s higher register was complemented by Rosas’ bass, creating a haunting effect. “Let’s Say Goodnight” followed with Hidalgo again playing the accordion, this time in concert with Berlin’s saxophone as the band plowed through a fast-paced, American Roots Rock number reminiscent of The Band. Hidalgo took center stage as he wailed away on his squeeze box, pumping out two searing solos. “I Got to Let You Know” found the band in overdrive as they ripped through a number that would make their Doo-Wop forefathers proud. A pounding sax lead and breakneck drumming provided the foundation for Rosas’ rapid fire vocals. This brought the already bustling crowd to a different level, the floor beginning to resemble an unchaperoned sock-hop.
The second Grateful Dead cover, “Bertha,” closed out the set. Three plus minutes of swampy, dirty soloing by Hidalgo and experimental Jazz play by Berlin on sax left listeners in suspense before the band hit the familiar riff full-tilt. For the remainder of the extended track, Hidalgo took a back seat to Perez, who laid down numerous solos. Clocking in at over ten minutes, “Bertha” highlighted the band’s versatility as they showed that besides playing Pop, Rock, and the Blues, Los Lobos can jam with the best of them.
After a brief exit from the stage, the band returned for a two song encore. The first, “Don’t Worry Baby,” again found the band harkening back to the ’50s with a song that one could easily mistake for a lost Chuck Berry track. The song screamed old time Rock and Roll and oozed fun with its light-hearted subject matter and fast-paced, simple melody. To close the show, the band did one last cover, paying tribute to one of their biggest influences, Neil Young. The band executed a note for note cover with grungy guitars and powerful vocals. Staying true to the original, they took it home for a heavy closing with ample feedback and an eerie quality.
Deft musicianship and deep-seated love and respect for the music that influenced them allow Los Lobos to give fans several shows for the price of one. By incorporating diverse styles into a sound all their own, the band has managed to meld genres that never should have met into a kaleidoscopic one-off style that was simply meant to be.Photo credit: Joe Parisi