This year marks the 45th anniversary of East L.A. Chicano rock band Los Lobos. Even if you don’t instantly recognize the name, chances are you’re familiar with their music, whether it be from a movie soundtrack or that one time they visited Sesame Street. With more than 20 full-length releases and a plethora of singles recorded for the likes of Disney and Warner Bros. under their belt, the band’s prolific output spans from Mexican folk music to blues rock and everything in between. Last Sunday, Los Lobos played a nearly two-hour-long set as a part of the OC Fair’s opening weekend.
Original members Cesar Rosas, David Hidalgo, Conrad Lozano and Louie Pérez started off the set by playing some of their early material. The acoustic Mexican folk songs may not have been what everyone in the crowd was expecting, but the energy was undeniable. The band powered through complex, intertwining rhythms on traditional instruments such as the requinto jarocho and the jarana. It was instantly apparent that Rosas and Hidalgo’s vocal harmonies are just as heartfelt and natural as they were nearly half a century ago.
During the third song, longtime member and multi-instrumentalist Steve Berlin took the stage along with the group’s current touring drummer, Enrique “Bugs” González. There were some brief technical difficulties that appeared to be entirely out of the band’s control but, unlike what most musicians who have achieved their level of success would probably do, they kept their cool. Lozano laughed through the ear-splitting feedback and Hidalgo made sure the song came to a clean ending.
The next three songs the band played, “Mexico Americano,” “Volver Volver” and “Sabor a mi” got much of the crowd dancing and singing along. Even those who don’t speak the language were visibly moved by the songs: proof that good music transcends any kind of cultural boundaries. At one point, a woman in the crowd shouted a song request at the band, to which Rosas responded, in his usual laid back tone of voice, “Oh don’t you worry. We’re going to play it all tonight.”
Hidalgo followed by making a dedication to Tyler Skaggs, the 27-year-old Angels pitcher who unexpectedly passed away earlier this month. The band then played an extended rendition of “Teresa,” a song written for one of their side projects, Los Super Seven. Saxophone and guitars traded solos over a driving Latin rhythm, making for a jam that even Jerry Garcia might envy.
When the band played “Don’t Worry Baby,” a rockabilly-esque fan favorite, the entire crowd was finally up out of their seats. Los Lobos followed that up with “Chuco’s Cumbia,” which literally filled the aisles with dancing bodies. The song’s blend of surf guitar, cumbia rhythms and unconventional chord progressions made for the perfect soundtrack to a unique and vibrant dance party.
After continuing with a cover of Ritchie Valens’ classic song “Come On Let’s Go” and their rendition of New Orleans party anthem “I Got Loaded,” the band’s set reached a climax with “Mas y Mas.” If someone were to ask what Los Lobos sounds like, this is probably the song you’d play them. It’s mixture of electric guitar licks, lush percussion grooves and Spanglish lyrics is pretty much what the band is all about. Sure, they are experts at traditional Mexican folk music, and they can outplay nearly any rock & roll band, but Los Lobos thrives where those two intersect.
After finishing that song, the band thanked the crowd and walked off the stage, which was quickly followed by a hearty “Otra, otra, otra!” chant from the crowd. Los Lobos responded by returning to the stage and playing another Richie Valens song, “La Bamba,” their version of which was famously part of the 1987 movie of the same name.
If last Sunday proves anything, it’s that Los Lobos are the same band they were 45 years ago. Sure, they’ve gone on to accomplish things that most musicians never even dream of, but they’re still down-to-earth people who just genuinely enjoy playing music.