It’s remarkable that a group formed in East Los Angeles in 1973 is still together, let alone pulling in sold out crowds twice in a weekend, but the three-hour set played Sunday night at Fitzgerald’s is living proof that Los Lobos has what it takes to thrive.

These Grammy winners have performed with the likes of Jerry Garcia, Ani DiFranco, Levon Helm and too many more acts to mention. They were one of the key groups to bring Nortenos music to the fore in America. Their fans are happy fanatics, some spending the entire weekend going to the three Chicagoland shows—a Saturday night performance in Crystal Lake was sandwiched between the Fitzgerald’s shows.

A one-off group of natural performers, they are unafraid to address their audiences with complete honesty and humour, like when David Hidalgo conversed with the band in between songs and exclaimed, “We’re having a senior moment. Give us a break!” And there were several moments when Hidalgo answered unrelenting applause with, “We love you, too. Chicago is our second home.”

Dressed essentially in black attire, David Hidalgo, Louie Perez, Cesar Rosas, Enrique Gonzalez, Conrad Lozano and Steve Berlin opened with ‘La Venganza de los Pelados’. Drummer Gonzalez kicked it to the can immediately and saxophonist Steve Berlin, who was standing in the shadows, added his own brand of subtle class. This song lends itself to cool instrumental breaks. The multiple guitar/bass sound was full and exciting from the get go. The crowd was already on their feet, primed for an eclectic set. Some had gotten there two hours early to grab a bar stool, but most stood up and swayed and clapped and looked like they’d just reached Heaven’s gate.

What people expected and received was a mix of the old and the new and a mélange of styles. ‘My Baby’s Gone’ with its bluesy vibe came next. The call and response got the audience involved quickly. The line, “living on the outside” was written to be echoed. Gonzalez added his incredible backbeat, Berlin’s slinky solo wove in and out of the funky melody like a garter snake and the electric guitar was sharp and passionate.

It was time to rock harder with Hidalgo manning the mic for ‘Evangeline’, a superb rockabilly style jam. Then sharp-looking Cesar Rosas in signature shades sang his tune, ‘Chuco’s Cumbia’, which appeared on 'The Town and the City', 2006. The hook, “Que bonita suenos” rang across the room. Hidalgo played an exuberant electric solo.

Then they went further back in time. The David Hidalgo/Louis Perez hit, ‘Revolution’ was recorded on 'Colossal Head' back in 1996. It’s a rich arrangement, but it started out simply with the clanking of the clave. As it gathered steam, Hidalgo sang, “Daddy’s gone and gone away…” Berlin added flute for more flavour. The theme, “A time for revolution,” really captured the intensity of the moment.

‘Dear Mr. Fantasy’, a Traffic cover, found Hidalgo making full use of his impressive range, and Berlin improvising a shimmering flute solo. The instrumental transitions between verses were magical. Hidalgo still has a terrific range and a warm, sonorous sound. The familiar progression gave way to extended guitar solos.

‘What Do You Do?’ has a simple melody, which gave the band more time to articulate and communicate, Lozano’s escalating bass hypnotic. ‘Angel Dance’ has an optimistic theme, “Tomorrow’s gonna give us a brand new day,” and it was an effective first set closer. The harmonies were beautiful and so was the muted strumming. It was a far cry from the other songs because of its pure, psychedelic overtones.

After a short break, they regrouped and brought onstage Ronnie Baker Brooks and his pal, a South Side-based, blues harp player. You could already feel that the fans were gearing up for a different kind of experience. Brooks smiled and said, “Since we are in Chicago, we’re going to play some boogie.”

On ‘Pigfoot Shuffle’, they jammed with complete abandon. Ronnie gave his all for ‘Gambler’s Blues,’ with its piercing theme about backstabbing women and empty pockets. He confidently interacted with the band members and with the front row. When Brooks and Hidalgo soloed, they looked completely blissed out by the feverish audience reaction. The tremolo of the blues harp was the icing on the cake. During an explosive solo, Brooks wore an angelic expression and shared, “A little Buddy Guy came out right there…”

The band kept up the pace with ‘Three Hundred Pounds of Joy’, a Howlin’ Wolf cover and ‘Walking with Frankie Lee’. That blues harp riff doubled for the big jam. Cesar Rosas was in exceptional voice. His solo was wonderfully gruff and impassioned and it was a blast to watch the band members play off of each other.

Hidalgo announced, “It's blues time again, Mexican style.” In an abrupt digression from the standard American blues, a beaming Hidalgo brought out his small accordion. Owning the spotlight, he led their classic, ‘Kiko and the Lavender Moon’. If you heard nothing else, it would have been worth it just to hear this unique arrangement performed live as the melody is absolutely striking and although it came to fame in the early 1990s, it retains a classic, universal appeal. ‘Kiko’ also served as a good transition for more traditional Mexican balladry. ‘Soy Mexico Americano’ and ‘Volver, Volver,’ which is a Vicente Fernandez cover, followed.

Since many of the fans tonight have been Los Lobos followers for decades—a few even grew up in the same part of East L.A. - many knew all of the lyrics in Spanish and English. Hidalgo’s intricate mastery of his instruments is uncanny.

The set officially closed with ‘I Got Loaded’, a great arrangement that leaves lots of space for improvisation: “Feel alright, let it shine.” There was some gorgeous sax and lots of audience participation. Enrique’s suspenseful drumming added great flair, punctuated by dramatic starts and stops. But this was Los Lobos and you knew you were going to get an encore.

‘Mas y Mas’ was up first, and then they launched into the world of Jimi Hendrix, one of the band’s greatest influences. ‘Hey Joe’ and ‘Are you Experienced?’ found the fellows having a fantastic time, stealing licks and working off the energy of the appreciative fans.

Apparently, the Friday night crowd enjoyed a few tunes that the Sunday night fans didn’t: ‘La Bamba’, ‘Bertha’, ‘West L.A. Fadeaway’ and ‘Will the Wolf Survive?’ But with tunes drawn from 'The Neighborhood', 'By The Light of the Moon', 'The Town and the City', 'Colossal Head' and 1984’s 'How Will The Wolf Survive?' which showcased Bob Camille’s ‘I Got Loaded’, it’s hard to complain, even though this crowd would have eaten up a verse or two of ‘La Bamba’.

What other band promises a night of bolero, cumbia, blues, rock and jazz and actually delivers? According to the Los Lobos sound person, the band did away with the idea of a set-list a long time ago. They’ve been together forever and they just know too many songs.

When you go to see Los Lobos, you always come home knowing you’ve made a few new friends. Here’s how one that I made summed up the evening. We’d chatted earlier, but had, of course, both gotten lost in the music afterwards. Then we saw each other once again. Tapping me on the shoulder, he gestured towards the stage: “Awesome.”

Photos by Jim Summaria
www.jimsummariaphoto.com









Related Links:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Los_Lobos
http://www.loslobos.org/site/
https://twitter.com/loslobosband
https://www.facebook.com/loslobos


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