You know it's a special night when the joint is already packed for the openers: in this case the honky-tonkin' Hacienda Brothers, who are fronted by Dave Gonzales (the lead singer/songwriter/guitarist for those San Diego rootsters the Paladins) and Weekly fave Chris Gaffney (the OC/LA singer/guitarist/accordionist who plays with his own band the Cold Hard Facts and Dave Alvin's Guilty Men, to name but two). The best way I can describe their sound is 'billy-bayou-country wrapped up in a big ball of soul, as if radio signals from '50s border stations had somehow morphed into those from early '60s Philadelphia. The strong set—which included Gaffney gems like "Fade to Grey"—got a warm reception from a pleasantly surprised audience, and it would be followed by at least three onstage nods of appreciation from the headliners.
As for Los Lobos, the 31-year-old band's 1992 masterpiece Kiko is regarded as their (if not all of roots music's) Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, and when singer/songwriter/guitarist/accordionist David Hidalgo and his mates gingerly took the stage to re-create all 16 songs live, you could get a sense from the palpable electricity coursing through the crowd that . . . uh . . . ah, screw it! I can't write this. My "winning" strategy was to plop into the home computer's disc player my well-worn Kiko CD, which would inspire me to re-create for you, the home viewer, the experience of having heard it live the night before from our very own National Treasures (just another band from East LA, my ass!). But here's the rub: any trains of thought that pop into that mushy substance between my ears get derailed as Kiko washes over me, which it has done so many times I have permanently pruny appendages.
Perhaps just mooshing together impressions will suffice. The first five Kiko songs are the strongest first five songs on any record. Period. End of story. Goodnight, everybody, drive safe and tip Mickey on the way to your car. Okay, saying the first five Kiko songs are the strongest first five songs on any record not only gives short shrift to Stevie Wonder's Innervisionsbut also Kiko's sixth track: "Saint Behind the Glass," which features Louie Pèrez's achingly sweet vocals and was rendered beautifully at HOB—complete with Veracruz harp! Musical genius Hidalgo seems lost at times, but even on his worst day he's still a guitar god. No, no, he's an accordion god. Is it possible to hear deep sadness and sunny optimism simultaneously in one voice? No, no, the band's heart and soul, Cesar Rosas, is the guitar god, and he sang like an R&B hitmaker on one song and a loungy Mexican crooner on another. Damn it, on Rosas' boogying "That Train Don't Stop Here" and "Whiskey Trail," they were both guitar gods (and Pèrez ain't too shabby with the axe hisself). Steve Berlin was nails not only with his usual tenor and baritone saxes but the keyboard freakouts that co-producer Mitchell Froom brought to Kiko. Don't know who the kid pounding the hell out of the drums was, but he and the Wolves' tireless bass player Conrad Lozano were in the pocket all night. Kiko's closer, "Rio de Tenampa," which you have permission to play at my wake, included backing from a brass band and parade drums. E-HOLE-AY! Thank God I discovered this 'tween-holidays show on the fly, or I'd forever be kicking myself for having missed it. Now I can die happy. Don't forget: "Rio de Tenampa" at the wake. And chicken tamales.
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