Los Lobos are one of the best, continuous working bands in America. They skyrocketed to fame in 1987 with their cover of Ritchie Valens’ 1958 hit, “La Bamba,” but are so much more than that; rooted in traditional Mexican folk music, blues, rock ‘n’ roll, r&b, soul and psychedelic jams, Los Lobos does it all. Now, celebrating 42 years together, they are still going strong.
The band continues to astound with their ability to effortlessly cross genres, switch up instruments and pass the mic between singers David Hidalgo and Cesar Rosas. On Saturday, December 17th, the Latino legends dug deep into their rich catalog and played a powerful, sold out show at City Winery in New York City as part of a fantastic four day residency.
Highlights from the first set included Cesar singing the ’60s r&b soul stomper, “Set Me Free (Rosa Lee),” with Steve Berlin wailing on baritone sax. Syd Straw jumped onstage to join the band on “Made To Break Your Heart,” with its heavy, plodding riffs and varying rhythms reminiscent of Crazy Horse. David Hidalgo blew minds with searing, Hendrix inflected guitar leads. “Cumbia de Mi Gente” saw Rosas taking vocal lead again, and featured a wicked breakdown with Louis Perez on jarana huasteca and drum solos by Enrique “Bugs” Gonzalez.
Part of the band’s songwriting genius lies in its ability to tap into themes that are both timeless and current. “Peace,” from the mighty Kiko, continues to resonate with its lyrics that speak of walls– real and perceived.
We build a wall of stone
As high as the trees are tall
Higher than the mountains
Stronger than us all, oh yeah
Some day that wall will crumble
Tumble and fall, the sun will shine
And bring peace to us all
The second set opened with the hard rocking psych grooves of “Viking,” from Colossal Head, and more Kiko boogie on “That Train Don’t Stop Here Anymore.” Feedback briefly reared its ugly head, but the band handled it with grace, Hidalgo coolly declaring “We shall overcome.” Hidalgo broke out the accordion for a magical rendition of “Kiko and The Lavender Moon,” the Tex-mex rocker, “Anselma,” and “Volver Volver,” Cesar Rosas singing the last two. Guitar great, Jack Stack, joined the band on “Don’t Worry Baby,” and remained onstage for the rest of the show, trading wicked licks with Hidalgo and Rosas. The band finished out the night with Traffic’s “Light Up or Leave Me Alone,” crowd pleaser, “Bertha,” by the Grateful Dead, and brought back Syd Straw for an encore of Neil Young’s “Cinnamon Girl.”
Los Lobos remains a formidable force that breaks down musical barriers and walls alike. Always excellent, they emanate electric love that opens hearts and minds.
¡Qué Vivan Los Lobos!