Show Review from the Chicago Tribune, 08-Nov-91:
Los Lobos Refuses To Get In The Way Of It's Tunes
By Mark Caro
Leave it to Los Lobos to turn a formal setting like Orchestra Hall into one big living room.
This Mexican-American band from East Los Angeles is the most casual and least pretentious of outfits. Their idea of showmanship is simply to transmit their love of music and let the rest take care of itself.
Wednesday night's show was an "acoustic evening" concentrating on various Latin-American regions' folk songs that the band regards as its roots. For some bands such an excursion into the past might amount to mere fashionable nostalgia.
But Los Lobos drew the line between roots and retro back in 1988 when, instead of capitalizing on their surprise No. 1 cover of Richie Valens' "La Bamba," they recorded an album of Spanish-language folk songs, "La Pistola y el Corazon," and waved bye-bye to many of their one-shot fans.
For Los Lobos, the past and present-the abroad and at home-are constantly interwoven. This diversity was mirrored by Wednesday night's crowd, who responded with yelps, howls and bilingual requests. The announcement that one song would be a "cancion ranchera" drew applause, as did promises that the band would and would not play rock 'n' roll.
Guitarists Cesar Rosas and David Hidalgo, bassist Conrad Lozano and drummer Louis Perez-the band's four original members, who were celebrating their 18th anniversary of playing together-initially wore acoustic guitars of various names, sizes and sounds. All four sang, often with Rosas taking the lead and the other three providing sweet call-and-response harmonies.
Hidalgo, the band's chief multi-instrumentalist, punched the early songs along with a requinto jarocho, a percussive guitar that sounds almost like steel drums, and later switched to accordion and violin. Perez soon moved to a drum kit, and saxophonist/keyboardist Steve Berlin and percussionist Victor Bisetti joined to flesh out the sound. A typical highlight was "Las Amarillas," a rhythmically tense huapango that featured Perez's and Bisetti's syncopated percussion interlocked with Rosas' churning strumming.
Throughout, the band was relaxed in its playing and banter. Rosas, in his ever-present shades, chatted constantly with audience and band members, and he made small talk during technical difficulties ("A little joke: There was this goat on the freeway. . . .").
The only aspect lacking in this evening of connections was the band's original songs. A version of "One Time One Night," a lament from the 1987 album "By the Light of the Moon," underscored the song's Mexican folk underpinnings, but the band bypassed "Will the Wolf Survive" and "The Neighborhood," its latest and most persuasive blending of Mexican and American rock, folk and blues influences.
The band members did, however, unveil two new songs that demonstrate they're still on the right path: "Two Janes," a Hidalgo-sung tale bolstered by a slow eruption of percussion, and a melancholy waltz called "Rio de Napa."
By the end, the spectrum was growing wider and wider. The band covered Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On," with Hidalgo's aching tenor gliding over the song's Latin beats, and Rosas played the mock-Spanish opening of Yes' "Roundabout" in introduction to the inevitable "La Bamba" encore. The less-than-capacity crowd was so vocal that they dragged the band back for a second encore after the house lights were up and the hall was half empty.