Concert: Los Lobos, X and Mariachi El Bronx in Los Angeles
After three weekends of festivals in the Southern California desert -- two Coachellas and Stagecoach -- Los Lobos and their friends treated Los Angelenos to a Cinco de Mayo fiesta Saturday night (5/5) at the Greek Theatre that didn't require local music fans to leave the city limits.
The Los Angeles institution played a career-spanning two-hour set, complete with previously announced special guests and a few surprises. It seemed appropriate that at one point during the set, singer/guitarist David Hidalgo dedicated "I'll Burn It Down," from their latest album "Tin Can Trust," to the recently deceased Levon Helm, because at times Saturday's show resembled The Band's "The Last Waltz," only Los Lobos shows no signs of packing it in. Rather, they've recruited young blood in drummer Enrique "Bugs" Gonzalez, allowing former skins man Louie Perez to join the front line on guitar -- with Hidalgo, guitarist/vocalist Cesar Rosas, and bassist/guitarron player Conrad Lozano -- and played like a well-oiled machine with plenty of mileage on the odometer, but with no need for a tune up.
Opening with "La Pistola y el Corazon," the title track from their 1988 Mexican folk music album, Los Lobos, which were also augmented by percussionist Oscar "Tambor" Bolanos, spent the first part of the set focusing on their roots with traditional Spanish-language tunes, before branching out with the first of the evening's special guests. Acclaimed singer/songwriter Neko Case joined the band on "Saint Behind the Glass" and "One Night, One Time in America," with her sweet vocals providing a nice contrast to Hidalgo's rich voice. Alejandro Escovedo, who recalled his time on the road supporting Lobos as a member of Rank and File, and later the True Believers, joined the band to perform his "Rosalie" and the True Believers' "Rebel Kind." Later in the set, Tex-Mex pioneer Flaco Jimenez joined the festivities, squeezing out "Margarita" on accordion, a track he recorded with Lobos-off-shot Los Super Seven. Dave Alvin made a surprise appearance, with "4th of July," a track he wrote and originally recorded during his brief tenure of openers X.
Another surprise guest was Alvin's brother and former Blasters mate, Phil Alvin. Sporting a white suit and walking with a cane, he mocked his appearance by saying he looked like Colonel Sanders, before ripping into a scorching version of the Blasters' classic "Marie Marie" in Spanish, with his brother at his side busting out hot rocakbilly riffs. But it wasn't all about the guests. Lobos were often at their best playing their own material sans company, as was the case on "Kiko and the Lavender Moon," a fabulous slice of Latin-flavored psychedelia from their 1992 album, "Kiko." And their breakthrough cover of "La Bamba," recorded for the 1987 Ritchie Valens biopic of the same name, made for the perfect celebratory closer. The only thing missing was "Will the Wolf Survive?," from their 1984 breakthrough album, but in a sense, it really wasn't necessary because by the end of the evening, that question had already been answered with a resounding yes.
Opening the show was Mariachi El Bronx, the eight-piece spin-off of hardcore punk band the Bronx, who have transcended what likely began as a novelty to become a legitimate act that had the crowd on their feet by the end of their set. Wearing traditional Mariachi garb, the band -- which included two trumpet players -- tore through originals including "48 Roses" and "Revolution Girls."
X, another Los Angeles institution and one-time Los Lobos and Blasters labelmates on the influential Slash label, filed the middle slot with a ferocious 45-minute set, drawing mostly from their first two albums. Mindful of their limited set time, the band performed in almost Ramones-like fashion, with only a few breaks, including one to allow frontwoman Exene Cervenka the opportunity to give a shout-out to a couple celebrating their 25th anniversary, before launching into "True Love." While technology may have changed making a song like "Your Phones off the Hook, but You're Not," seem dated lyrically, the band's mix of punk fury and rockabilly riffs still sounds fresh more than 30 decades later.