21-Nov-90 Riviera Theatre, Chicago IL

Show Review from the Chicago Tribune, 22-Nov-90:

Los Lobos Still a Pack That Does It All Very Well
By Greg Kot
Rock Music Critic

Los Lobos is either (a) the best wedding band in East Los Angeles, (b) the least photogenic band in America, or (c) a national treasure.

As the group demonstrated Wednesday night at the Riviera, the correct answer is (d) all of the above.

These boyhood buddies have been around for 17 years, and they still look and act like they're pickin' and grinnin' in the living room in between helpings of potato chips and clam dip. Flannel shirts, baseball caps, blue jeans and beer bellies remain the band's idea of a fashion statement.

Los Lobos' "stage presence" amounts to Cesar Rosas creeping toward the audience during one of his infrequent guitar solos. No grimacing, arena-rock gestures for these guys-singer David Hidalgo's only outward display of emotion all evening was a tiny smile in the midst of a spectacular "Angel Dance" jam.

Hidalgo, like the rest of the guys in Los Lobos, pours all his emotion into his instrument and his music. The band makes the sweetest, deepest emotions seem effortless.

An improbable hit, a 1987 cover version of Ritchie Valens' "La Bamba," thrust Los Lobos into the uncomfortable role of rock stars for a brief time.

But their virtues run far deeper than any pop chart can possibly gauge. Above all, the quintet epitomizes the word "band," a sum truly greater than its parts.

Though Hidalgo, with his beautiful tenor and command of several instru-ments-guitar, accordion, violin-would seem to be the group's leader, he doesn't exactly dominate the stage.

It is instead the goateed greaser, Rosas, who plays the role of crowd pleaser, with his shades, battered 12-string acoustic guitar and growling vocals. Louis Perez, along with Hidalgo, is the band's principal songwriter, and is an adequate, if unspectacular, drummer.

Conrad Lozano is a masterly bassist, the band's secret weapon as he lurks almost unnoticed in the shadows. And Steve Berlin plays the role of an elevated sideman, his keyboards and saxophones adding depth and rhythmic drive.

Together their interplay verges on the telepathic, as they take several generations worth of music-blues, roadhouse R&B, Mexican drinking songs, anthemic rockers-and weave it into a blanket of inspiration.

In the opening burst of songs, a blues boogie worthy of John Lee Hooker, "I Walk Alone," and the guitar-driven anthem "Will the Wolf Survive?," set the table for the evening's early high point, a haunting, partly acoustic ballad, "Emily."

Later the band ripped into several Mexican folk songs, playing them with such brisk assurance that one hardly noticed they were sung in Spanish.

After playing nearly 30 songs, including three encores, Los Lobos was gone, heading home for Thanksgiving.

One needn't imagine how wonderful the music will be that they play in their living rooms over the holidays. The performance Los Lobos delivered Wednesday night was as close to home as any rock show could be.