Los Lobos. At UCSB’s Campbell Hall, Thursday, February 22.
Reviewed by Matt Kettmann
If American states walked around to theme music, California would cruise its urban alleys and rural byways with Los Lobos in tow. Since 1973, this East L.A. band of proud Chicanos has been playing a uniquely Californian blend of rock, blues, and traditional Mexican music. The latter was happily the bulk of the mostly acoustic concert last Thursday, as Los Lobos — namely the sunglassed emcee/guitarist Cesar Rosas, big man/picker ’n’ vocalist extraordinaire David Hidalgo, skinny dude/guitarist Louie Perez, guitarron/bassist/smiley guy Conrad Lozano, goateed reed man Steve Berlin, and local-boy-turned-big-timer percussionist Cougar Estrada — unleashed an uninterrupted flood of strings for more than 90 minutes on Campbell Hall’s stage.
The show began with two songs in the Jarocho style from Veracruz. That’s the Mexican state that bred “La Bamba,” the song that made Los Lobos (and Richie Valens) famous after they covered it for the movie of the same name. Thankfully, they withheld that overused anthem, instead making a joke about it while revealing to the crowd that the impassioned and beautiful Jarocho music is something we need to hear more.
Then out came Estrada, who plays percussion for such Santa Barbara stalwarts as Spencer the Gardener and the Nate Birkey Quintet. “All the way from Camarillo” is how he was introduced, but we know Santa Barbara occupies an important corner of his soul, and we cheered our homeboy — decked out in a Belushi-inspired “Colegio” T-shirt — accordingly.
The Mexican sonic onslaught continued with such songs as “La Pistola y el Corazón” and “Guantanamera,” both great chances to appreciate Hidalgo for his vocal power as well as his tremendous string-picking skills. With songs from the band’s 2005 release Acoustic En Vivo, the ever-popular Kiko (1992), and The Town and the City (2006), Hidalgo ran through an impressive quiver of guitars while also managing to find time to play the violin and the accordion.
Getting a Campbell Hall crowd to stand and clap is a challenge, but Los Lobos kept us mostly standing throughout a long encore. And just when I was wondering whether Los Lobos was truly a band for all California, they ended with some Grateful Dead, whom they opened for throughout the ’80s and ’90s. “Not Fade Away” drifted into “Tequila” and then came “Bertha,” showing that a bunch of talented dudes from East L.A. really can represent our Golden State.