Los Lobos | Fox Theater | Boulder, CO | 3/29/2014 | Review
Commercial success is a tough concept to toy with for many bands in their breakthrough moment. How do you compromise your stylistic integrity and what you want to play versus what a major record label or mainstream audiences are thought to expect out of pop music? It ruins the authenticity of certain bands willing to make that sacrifice. The braver bands with stronger roots and integrity can withstand such temptations, doing things their own way, and still gaining mainstream popularity and success on their own terms. The shining example of this risky route is longstanding chicano rock band Los Lobos. The Los Angeles based group of Mexican American rockers understood that in order to hold onto their identity as the hybrid Latin Americana style, they needed to keep close to what bred their chemistry to begin with. And forty years later, David Hidalgo (guitar, accordion, vocals), Cesar Rosas (guitar/vocals), Louie Perez (guitar, drums, vocals), Conrad Lozano (bass), Steve Berlin (saxophone, keyboards), and Enrique Gonzalez (drums) continue to create new interesting music while keeping their classics fresh, and maintaining a loyal longstanding tour and fan-base. It’s been decades since their breakthrough record How Will The Wolf Survive, or their true break into stardom with Kiko, yet they still manage to captivate audiences with onstage chemistry and an endearing relationship with the fans.
It’s fascinating to think about how much culturally Los Lobos has bridged between United States and Mexican music. Musìca norteña, the beloved equivalent of classic rock in Mexican culture is extremely underrepresented in our gringo music culture. Yet the U.S. celebrates styles like flamenco and bosa nova. Los Lobos embraces Musìca norteña and fused it seamlessly with good ole’ fashioned Buddy Holly style rock ‘n’ roll. Their mainstream success luckily coincided with a time when big record labels like Warner Brothers took interest in “world music” and wanted to bring the style into pop American music. Decades later, Lobos tours smaller halls and approachable fan favorite festivals all out of the joy of playing. Their 40th anniversary tour reaches far and wide nationally. The band chose the small Fox Theatre on Boulder, Colorado’s University Hill to play their big gig. Humorously but expected, few college students were to be found at the sold out show. Most of the crowd was probably old enough to have seen the band in the late 80s, alongside the Grateful Dead on tour.
The band came onstage with youthful energy and launched into a two-hour concert of classics and covers. Amongst band and audience favorites were originals like “Evangeline,” “Corrido 1”, “Sernata Nortena,” and “Kiko.” We were also treated to a few unexpected covers like The Allman Brothers “One Way Out.” Most boisterous was Cesar Rosas, whose onstage antics, jaunting to stage-edge and feeling the warm embrace of the star struck front row crowd was welcomed warmly. Even more impressive is the versatility of this group of fellas, who know each other musically inside and out. Louie Perez, founding drummer of Lobos, now mainly focused on guitars gave Gonzales a break mid-show to take on drumming for the more traditional Mexican style arrangements. Acoustic and electric, progressive and roots. All at once. If David Hidalgo’s nuanced classic rock guitar work wasn’t impressive enough, his accordion playing, which wasn’t reveled until mid-show, reminded the crowd of his multi-instrumental abilities. Berlin’s saxophone and flute work funkified the band sound even further.
The mature Fox Theatre crowd embraced their favorite Chicano rock band and kept them playing till midnight. It great to know that certain classic rock bands don’t need to sell out and play huge arenas with current top ten chart toppers (though Lobo’s rendition of “La Bamba” was a chart topper in 1987, and many originals were as well) and through-the-roof ticket prices. Hidalgo, Perez, Rosas, Berlin, Lozano, and Gonzalez would rather play to smaller rooms with hotter energy. They truly are living some American Dream, their own way. Colorado loves Los Lobos music and can’t wait to hear more from them as long as they keep it going.