Review by Fred Rudofsky
There are few bands that can entertain an audience as holistically as Los Lobos, and even fewer that have played with such gusto and imagination for so long. The multiple Grammy Award-winning band from East L.A., who appeared at Mass MoCA in 1999 for the venue’s grand opening celebrations, returned to North Adams for a sold-out acoustic show last Thursday that appealed to the mind, booty and soul.
Opening with “Angels with Dirty Faces” from 1992’s classic “Kiko,” Los Lobos showed just why it was going to be a special night. Guitarist Dave Hidalgo was in fine voice, and coaxed by Steve Berlin (on keys and baritone saxophone), he ripped into a wild solo that adroitly referenced Jimi Hendrix’s motif from “Third Stone from the Sun.” Cesar Rosas took the lead on the next song, a rousing “Chuco’s Cumbia” from 2006’s “The Town and the City,” that had patrons dancing in the corners near the stage. “Will the Wolf Survive?” the song that really broke Los Lobos in the public consciousness in the early ’80s, was roots rock at its best, drawing even more to the dance floor in front of the stage. Louie Perez, playing jarana huesteca, took the lead vocal on the mystical “Saint Behind the Glass,” replete with Hidalgo’s high octave fills, Berlin’s haunting synths and the exuberant drumming of new recruit, the ever-smiling Enrique “Bugs” Gonzales.
Quickly eschewing the set lists they had posted around their mic stands, the band knew just what the audience craved and let their collective muse express itself in spectacular ways. “Dream in Blue,” an original and fan favorite for years, merged into Traffic’s “40 Thousand Headmen” and then into the band’s own “Marciela,” a percussion tour de force and great showcase for Rosa, who sang it with a smile as the crowd clapped along.
Given the acoustic format of the night, it was no surprise that some of the biggest cheers were for the deep Mexican roots songs like “La Pistola y Corazon,” “Los Ojos de Pancha,” “La Guancamaya,” “Canto Veracruz” and “Volver Volver,” which had couples and lone senoritas of all ages occupying the stage-front in a frenzy. Hildalgo strapped on his accordion for the rollicking blues of “Let’s Say Goodnight”; the band paid tribute to the Grateful Dead with a funkified “West L.A. Fadeaway” from their recent CD “Tin Can Trust”; and Rosas played a dead-on John Lee Hooker-styled vamp that led into an incendiary “Don’t Worry Baby.”
After the audience screamed and chanted for more, Los Lobos obliged with a three-song encore that revealed just how talented they are. Bassist Conrad Lozano brought out his guitarron and took the lead microphone for a sing-along of the traditional “Guantanamara”; the group followed this reporter’s request with a rocking “Mas y Mas”; and Jonah Smith (of opening band the Statesmen) joined Hildalgo for an inspired take on Marvin Gaye’s timeless plea for social consciousness and common sense, “What’s Going On.”
The Statesmen, a Brooklyn-based quartet promoting their self-tilted debut, opened the night with nine songs. Strongly rooted in the sounds and styles of the Band and Little Feat, as well as vintage Stax Records, the group earned many fans with their energy. Four-part harmonies and dual lead vocals by drummer Josh Dion and keyboard player Jonah Smith informed “Home” and “Turning Outside.” Ben Rubin’s bass brought a Duck Dunn feel to the gritty travelogue of “Esmeralda,” and guitarist Scott Metzger won major applause with pinched solos and fine rhythmic turns throughout the set that would’ve made both Robbie Robertson and Steve Cropper smile.