Los Lobos is one of a handful of American bands that have sustained a notable and distinguished presence on the American music scene for over 30 years. A crossover band before the term was coined, they write music that has been a bridge between Mexican and American cultures ever since they emerged from East LA.
For a band that moves between rockabilly, soul, and various strains of Tex-Mex music, an Oak Cliff venue (The Kessler Theater) seems particularly appropriate. No surprise, then, that the band had two sell-out sets of 400 tickets each Saturday night. It was a little surprisingly the demographic skewed so much toward older and white.
The appearance was advertised as acoustic, but it was clear from the gear on the stage that acoustic did not mean unplugged. All manner of electric and acoustic guitars, basses, drums, keyboards and horns crammed the stage.
The band took the stage for the first set at 7:15 (excluding keyboardist/sax player Steve Berlin) strapped up mariachi-style. Bassist Conrad Lozano took up the Guitaron, and David Hildago grabbed a requinto jarocho. Cesar Rosas -- signature black Ray Bans in place, took stage left with a six string, and drummer Louie Perez grabbed at guitar. Greeting the crowd, the band looked as grizzled and comfortably dressed down.
But when they launched into a furious rendering of Yo Canto off the band's most recent album, Tin Can Trust, it was clear they remain masters of their craft. Hildago's voice is as pretty and distinctive as Thom Yorke's, his lead guitar licks thick and fluid. With his bulk and aggressive play, it seemed the little four stringed guitar might be crushed or catch fire before the song ended. As he switched to accordion throughout the set he demonstrated as much master of that instrument.
He was joined on stage by Berlin -- looking like he might ride shotgun with Tom Waits -- and new supplemental drummer Enrique "Bugs" Gonzales, and the band continued the Latino sound. Crowd favorites early in the set included "La Pistola y El Corazón" and the ass-shaking "Chuco's Cumbia," with Rosas encouraging the appreciative but stoic crowd to get the party started. Hildago demonstrated his command of the accordion to equal that of the guitar as he switched from one to the other.
The band shed the acoustic and Tex-Mex with "Tears Of God" and the jazzy "Oh Yeah," before hitting another crowd high with "One Time One Night" and "Kiko and the Lavender Moon."
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Late in the set the band responded to an audience shout-out for "Set Me Free Rosa Lee," quickly re-tuning and hitting it.
After rocking the house with "Don't Worry Baby" the band left the stage, 75 minutes after starting. Responding to a stomping crowd, the band quickly returned for "Guantanamera." Or is it "Once on a Meadow?" Or "One Ton Of Metal"?
Whatever, the crowd loved it and shouted along whatever lyric they preferred. It capped a very polished, satisfying night. Los Lobos is the best at what they do on the planet. And in my humble opinion, David Hildago is a musical treasure approaching the stature of Willie Nelson.