When acts tape an episode of Austin City Limits, as Los Lobos did Monday night to open the PBS concert staple’s 40th season captures, it’s predetermined whether they get 30 minutes or the entire hour. If they kill it, they can be upgraded from the former to the latter. Given the wolf pack’s epic set, good luck editing it down to even 60 minutes.
“One reason we decided to kick off our [40th] anniversary with them,” explained executive producer Terry Lickona in his traditional opening remarks/thank yous/introduction, “is because they’re celebrating their 40th year.”
Forty-five minutes later, nominal bandleader David Hidalgo looked typically poker-faced in a similar assessment, though you could almost detect an element of surprise creeping in on him:
“Forty years, people. We’re still here and glad you’re still here.”
Here, here. And judging from the response to Los Lobos’ radically unconventional career overview – its fifth ACL appearance and first in a dozen years – we the audience are moving easily through this ruby anniversary and hopefully towards the golden 50.
While the East Angelinos that banded together in high school during the early Seventies debuted on disc with 1978’s all-Spanish Los Lobos Del Este de Los Angeles – and returned to the template a decade later on La Pistola y El Corazón – in rock & roll Español remains a second language. And yet, not only was half of the band’s 21-tune siege in the native tongue of original quartet Hildago, Louie Pérez, Cesar Rosas, and Conrad Lozano, the group’s scheduled walk-off song which went unperformed, “Guantanamera,” circles back to that first catalog entry.
Moreover, the 2,000 or so people inside the Moody Theater reacted best – with rabid fervor, in fact – to Los Lobos’ downhome Latinate.
Opening with just the core four in mariachi mode, “Yo Canto,” “El Cascabel,” and the title track to La Pistola y El Corazón shuffled and stamped on Spanish gut-string guitars of various shapes and sizes, the originators soon joined by integral fifth wheel Steve Berlin and a couple percussionists. Pérez, out from behind his original drum kit now for too many years to count, took a rare vocal on Kiko’s “Saint Behind the Glass” and Rosas danced his growl across “Set Me Free (Rosa Lee).” They couldn’t touch the near riot of “Chucho’s Cumbia.”
“Luz de Mi Vida” (2002’s Good Morning Aztlán), “La Venganza de Los Pelados” (2004’s The Ride), and a three-time shout-out to Flaco Jimenez with “Ay te Dejo en San Antonio” from 1983 major label debut ... And a Time to Dance (co-produced by a pre-inducted Berlin and captured twice last night with an additional false start for luck) ruled the proverbial roost.
Although critical opinion has deemed fifth full-length Kiko the band’s Abbey Road, borne out here by the aforementioned “Saint,” its title track, “Wicked Rain,” and closer “Rio de Tenampa,” guest brassed by the Grupo Fantasma horns and dedicated to Doug Sahm, second and third Warner Bros. LPs By the Light of the Moon and The Neighborhood continue to get short shrift, contributing two songs and none at all respectively. No “La Bamba” cover either.
Mostly that felt beside the point, but when the band’s three-guitar frontline was finally strapped with electric guitars for closing raver “Mas y Mas” and encore “Don’t Worry Baby,” a few more greatest rockers suddenly felt called for. By then, however – more than two hours in – the audience was exhausted. The band, not so much.
Future still looks bright enough for Los Lobos to warrant Cesar Rosas’ trademark Ray-Bans.
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