The ’70s funk group WAR has a much-loved hybrid sound that, in its own way, conjures the perpetual summertime feel of Southern California as thoroughly as the Beach Boys. Their fans were out in full force for this Memorial Day weekend event that included opening acts El Chicano, Malo, and Tierra-the three bands who form “Latin Legends Live.”
Malo is a family affair. Led by singer Arcelio Garcia, the band not only includes Garcia’s son, who sings and raps, but also Jorge Santana, who plays guitar in a way that is very similar to his brother Carlos. Tierra followed with their Latin-tinged variation on vocal harmony and some friendly jokes with audience members down front about Lincoln Heights. Big nostalgia was achieved through the doo-wop connection, and, as at any reputable Latin shindig, there was plenty of dancing.
WAR hero and leader Lonnie Jordan got things off to a enthusiastic start with a shout out to the L.A. Lakers. Drummer Salvador Rodriguez sang several numbers, including the set opening “Cinco de Mayo.” Jordan continued to mine the memory banks of everyone present with references to the ’60s and eight-tracks, which were served up alongside more generic nods to the timeless trio of wine, women, and weed.
Jordan and producer Jerry Goldstein jettisoned all the other original members of the band back in the early 1990s, but this edition did admirably well in living up to an idiosyncratic tradition and sound that has become emblematic of L.A.’s melting pot culture. Fernando Harkless brought just the right dynamic tension to his many saxophone solos, and Mitch Kashmar made replicating Lee Oskar’s distinctive harmonica style look easy. On both drums and vocals, Rodriguez was outstanding, and his interplay with bassist Francisco “Pancho” Tomaselli kept the groove in the pocket all night long.
This music has been substantially revived as a source of income to the songwriters by widespread sampling, but it was meant to be heard live, in a party setting. The vibe at the Bowl on Sunday was high-energy, but the crowd never got out of hand. By the time the band launched into “All Day Music,” their greatest feel-good hit, the mood had relaxed into an all out love-fest, Mexican-style. WAR brought a large group of female audience members onstage to dance at one point, then dismissed them with the tongue-in-cheek explanation that they had blown it by bringing a guy up there. The good-natured joking continued into the encores, as thousands boogied to the brown-eyed soul of one of L.A.’s greatest bands.