A Disjointed Fiesta

Los Lobos - Park West - Chicago, IL

August 10, 1999

First Appeared in The Music Box, September 1999, Volume 6, #9

Written by John Metzger


Since its debut in 1983, Los Lobos has woven a blend of roots-oriented rock and Latino music into a ’90s version of The Band. In 1992, Los Lobos released what has become its defining moment as a studio group — the brilliant, beautiful, and inspired Kiko. Since then, its members have only improved as songwriters, and its music has become more atmospheric and surreal. At the same time, its musicians have embarked on numerous side projects that have spread their strongest material across a variety of different albums. Nevertheless, Los Lobos has earned a stellar and much deserved reputation as a phenomenal live act due to its forceful and moving performances.

On August 10, it was with great anticipation that Los Lobos, who is fresh off the release of This Time, arrived at the Park West in Chicago. It was not surprising that it succeeded in packing the intimate venue to the brim. Unfortunately, this was not one of the group’s finer moments, resulting in a largely uneven performance from a typically solid band. Perhaps the problems stemmed from a difficult soundcheck or a late arrival, which had also kept patrons waiting outside longer than usual. Possibly, it was the ridiculously early curfew, which had cut the show short. Whatever the reason, Los Lobos struggled to stay in synch over the course of the concert, and at times the band members seemed truly bored with their material.

One Time One Night grew out of a promising ethereal jam, carrying a splendor similar to the Grateful Dead’s segue from Space into The Wheel. However, once Los Lobos embraced the song, it quickly self-destructed into an uninspired rendition that was delivered as an afterthought.  David Hidalgo completely blew several of the lyrics with a uncaring attitude that was frighteningly Garcia-like. His characteristically hypnotic crooning was distant and detached, as if he were in some other time and place.

Revolution was saved from a similar derailment by the magnificent flights of Steve Berlin on flute. His jazzy accompaniment blended with Hidalgo’s guitar to lift the song into a dream-like journey, reminiscent of Traffic. For a moment, Los Lobos seemed to recover as it fully explored its musical environment before allowing the song to drift into a glorious rendition of This Time.

As is customary for Los Lobos’ concerts, the center portion of its set, as well as several encores, was devoted to music that pays tribute to its heritage. In listening to the group perform, it’s difficult not to wonder what else Ritchie Valens would have accomplished had he not had the misfortune of being on that airplane. Like Valens, Los Lobos delivers its tradition-steeped songs with a huge burst of rock ‘n’ roll energy, driven by the fiery lifeblood of drummer Louie Pérez and bassist Conrad Lozano. Likewise, Cesar Rosas’ impassioned vocals filled selections like Anselma with a sprightly exuberance. In addition, on selections like Cumbia Raza and Maricela, the band also updated the genre by folding in elements of jazz, courtesy of Berlin’s tenor and baritone saxophone textures.

It was on the set-concluding Mas Y Mas that Hidalgo truly came alive. He engaged Rosas in an incendiary duel that engulfed the venue in a raging whirlwind of screaming, distorted guitars. Los Lobos funneled every bit of anger and energy that it could muster into this final onslaught, leaving little ammunition for its encores.

Casolando, a Chicago-area band, opened the show with a solid set of music that drew from the tradition of Latin America and Spain. It was impossible not to be drawn into the group’s infectious rhythms, and it successfully won over a initially unresponsive audience by communicating its message through its music.

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Copyright © 1999 The Music Box