Los Lobos knocks the sox off crowd at El Casino
By M. Scot Skinner
Los Lobos, having just played 23 songs that turned El Casino Ballroom upside down, were beckoned to the stage for their third encore Wednesday night.
The worn-out, sold-out crowd was screaming for more. Anything. Just don't leave. Not yet.
Someone asked me if they would play "La Bamba." Nah, I muttered with misplaced confidence. They had given that up. I read it somewhere.
But then, suddenly, there it was.
You'll remember that Los Lobos took this old Mexican folk song to No.1 in 1987, nearly 30 years after Ritchie Valens took it to No.2. The success of "La Bamba" focused the world's attention on this little band from East Los Angeles.
Everywhere Los Lobos played, the crowd yelled for "La Bamba." It became a sort of curse. And so the band stopped playing it. They had a wealth of material, from gorgeous Mexican corridas to straight-ahead roadhouse rock, and they had something else. Confidence. They knew that there was life after "La Bamba."
Los Lobos played a concert in their hometown last month. They did not play "La Bamba" and, according to the ecstatic reviews, nobody held it against them.
But it's Christmas time, and the quintet was in a giving mood Wednesday night.
The opening notes of "La Bamba" sent the crowd into dancing frenzy. And you know what? It's doubtful the song has ever sounded more vibrant, more alive, more, well, human.
Such generosity of spirit is typical of this astounding group of musicians.
I'm sure someone, somewhere, has written a negative review of a Los Lobos concert. But it's hard to fathom who could do such a thing. I've seen the group in concert three times, and each show was more exciting than the last. It's not often that one approaches a concert with such high expectations, and is still blown away.
It might not have been the best concert of the year. But surely it was the most warm, rousing and altogether happy occasion this town has seen in many moons.
The members of Los Lobos have played together for 17 years, yet nothing they do sounds automatic or canned. Each of their songs is performed with the sweet, simple energy of a teen-age garage band.
The opening song was "I Walk Alone," a flat-out rocker from the new album, "The Neighborhood." Before the night was over, we heard several other songs from the album, including "Jenny's Got a Pony," "Emily," the title track and "Down on the Riverbed." The songs, especially the last, seemed to have a tougher and richer sound than on the album.
Los Lobos, Spanish for the wolves, also played a couple of folk songs from "La Pistola y el Corazon."
As usual, David Hidalgo's tenor was in pristine form, complemented by the more growling vocals of guitarist Cesar Rosas. Steve Berlin (formerly of the Blasters) handles the saxophone, while Conrad Lozano plays bass and Louis Perez plays drums. When everyone gets cooking, especially with Hidalgo on the squeeze box, the result is completely satisfying.
The set included Valens' other hit, "Let's Go," "Will the Wolf Survive," "One Time, One Night in America," "Anselma" and "Marie Marie," a Blasters rave-up.
One song, a loping ballad about Pancho Villa, was introduced as an old "beer drinking, Mexican revolutionary song." Grounded in a hot baritone sax line from Berlin, it had the entire place swaying and smiling.
The faces told the story. Bliss.