The legendary band from East L.A. played a pair of sold-out shows in the intimate confines of Grand Rapids’ Listening Room on Friday. The review and photo gallery.
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About halfway through Los Lobos’ first of two sold-out shows Friday night at Grand Rapids’ Listening Room, guitarist Cesar Rosas said to the politely seated crowd, “You guys are so quiet. That’s not like a rock ‘n’ roll show. Are you enjoying yourself?’
Getting the expected enthusiastic affirmatives, he added, “That’s all that matters.”
As if to prove the point, the band launched into a medley of Chicago blues belters, “300 Pounds of Heavenly Joy” and “Walking with Frankie,” which probably tempted some audience members to toss aside their padded chairs to clear a dance floor.
But if Rosas took the absence of flashing feet for a lack of heavenly joy, I doubt there were many listeners who weren’t jiving in their hearts to one of America’s most accomplished and enduring rock bands.
The Grammy-winning outfit now in its sixth decade dynamically delivered its versatile repertoire of rock, blues, balladry and traditional Mexicana in the first of two jam-packed affairs at the intimate, 200-capacity downtown venue — a real treat for fans who’ve usually experienced this band in much larger spaces.
From the heavy-blues opener “Down on the Riverbed” on into a 16-song foray covering their remarkably wide catalog, Los Lobos showed why it perseveres through the ever-changing mixtape of American pop and rock.
This is a band that can play most anything, and has a hell of a good time doing it.
“We’re almost 50 years old,” Rosas marveled. “We’re right behind the Stones.”
SIZZLING GUITAR WORK AND ROLLICKING COVERS
Front and center on the small stage were the dueling lead vocals and sizzling guitar work of Rosas and the gifted multi-instrumentalist David Hidalgo. They traded searing solos on tune after tune, most notably on “Shakin’ Shakin’ Shakes,” the can’t-miss barnburner from their 1987 classic “By the Light of the Moon” that shook the house with the hypnotic drumbeat of Fredo Ortiz.
The pair were occasionally joined in their riffing by Louie Perez, who began the group with Hidalgo at their East Los Angeles high school and who also took the drum kit for a few numbers.
Along with bassist Conrad Lozano and sax player Steve Berlin, the band tore through the blues-rock classic “Don’t Worry Baby” from their breakout 1984 LP, “How Will the Wolf Survive?,” the beautiful “Emily” and the dream-like “Kiko and the Lavender Moon,” as well as several tracks from their new album, “Native Son,” a collection of covers paying tribute to other L.A. bands.
These included the rollicking “Love Special Delivery,” first cut by garage band Thee Midniters, and the dusty Beach Boys gem “Sail On, Sailor.”
“We were listening to the Beach Boys in East L.A.,” Hidalgo assured the crowd. “We were the surfers with black socks.”
Ever true to their Mexican-American roots, the band also played several traditional Spanish-language tunes such as “Chuco’s Cumbia,” which through a Les Paul guitar and Fender amps rocked the house just fine, thank you.
Their interweaving of Hispanic culture and blues-rock meant something special to Angela Gonzalez-Urbina, who with her husband Eduardo took in their first Los Lobos gig with Angela’s mother and uncle, “avid” musicians who love the band.
“I grew up with this,” said Angela, 32, from Holland. “I thought it was amazing. I love their music. I like the fact they are able to mix both the Mexican culture and the American culture. That’s who we are as Mexican-Americans.”
“Battered drums and old guitars, singing songs of passion,” Los Lobos sang 37 years ago. “It’s the truth that they all look for, something they must keep alive. Will the wolf survive?”
Yes, these wolves are still surviving, and still rocking.
PHOTO GALLERY: Los Lobos at Listening Room
Photos by Anthony Norkus