Not knowing anything about Larry Campbell before the show, I quickly discovered him to be a crackerjack studio musician who can pretty much play anything beautifully. The multi-instrumentalist (guitar, fiddle, mandolin) played musical middleman connecting the two Davids with whom he shared the Lobero stage. David Hidalgo — singer, writer, and guitar god for Los Lobos — is a man of few, if any, words; David Bromberg — steeped in the old-school variant of she-done-me-wrong blues played in nothing but seventh chords — is an exuberant Mount Vesuvius of improvisational verbal vainglory. The unplugged threesome electrified a sold-out Lobero Theatre audience for two hours on Tuesday, January 15.
The onstage trio each cradled their respective acoustic guitars. Hidalgo attacked a nylon-stringed guitar, occasionally strapping on his button accordion, and went to town, taking the audience happily with him. The other two played steel strings and sang. The set list was mostly a series of duets in which all three wound up playing. First Campbell would play something with Bromberg like “I’ll Take You Back,” one of the many comically wounded-by-a-cheating-no-good-woman love songs Bromberg seems to favor. Then Campbell would play something with Hidalgo such as “Volver, Volver,” one of the great howl-at-the-moon classics they tweaked just enough to make their own.
Hidalgo’s a musical mountain of a man. When he sings, his sense of yearning is geologic in impact. He can make you cry singing the Carpinteria Yellow Pages. For this show, he went country and western, singing a great rendition of Merle Haggard’s “Running Kind” and Los Lobos’ hit “Will the Wolf Survive?,” itself a great country-and-western song.
Hidalgo and Bromberg have separate sensibilities; if left to their own devices, they might be more inclined to coexist than to mesh. Campbell, however, made sure that didn’t happen. By dint of musical enthusiasm and a palpably generous spirit, Campbell brought everyone together. By the time Bromberg closed the set with “Mr. Bojangles,” — still a beautiful and moving song despite having been criminally overplayed — we’d all experienced a couple of wonderful hours.