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The Wolf Survives on the Pier: Los Lobos @ Twilight Dance Series, 8/30/07

Los Lobos is one band that cannot be pigeonholed, and nowhere was that more evident than at this final event for Santa Monica Pier’s Twilight Dance Series. Part rock and roll stalwarts, part Latin jazz combo and part jam band, Los Lobos played an eclectic and spirited set that clocked in at nearly two hours.

At the Pier, the crowd had reached fire marshal-irritating levels fairly early, leaving hundreds of onlookers spilling out into the parking lot and edging up against the sand soon after the performance began. Despite being densely packed together, the audience members exhibited an overabundance of enthusiasm, dancing wildly even though the sound had thinned to little more than a drum and hint of guitar at the venue’s furthest reaches.

Los Lobos opened with “La Pistola y El Corazón,” from the band’s 1988 CD of the same name.  From there, the set segued into a mix of original material and covers, combining English and Spanish lyrics with North American and Latin American sounds.

Throughout the set, the band paid tribute to its musical roots.  Little Willie G, of seminal East LA rock and roll band Thee Midnighters, joined Los Lobos to sing backup on “The Town,” from last year’s album The Town and the City, and lead vocals on “Is This All There Is?” which he previously performed with the band on the album The Ride.  Elsewhere, Los Lobos covered early rock and roll classics such as Ritchie Valens’ song “Come On, Let’s Go” and the Fats Domino piece “The Fat Man.” The latter, singer/guitarist David Hidalgo remarked, has been recorded for a compilation CD to benefit Hurricane Katrina relief efforts.  The band also performed a cover of Neil Young’s “Cinnamon Girl” and a rousing rendition of “Marie Marie” from roots-revival outfit the Blasters, with whom Los Lobos frequently played in the early 1980s.

Despite Los Lobos’ common association with the roots-revival scene in Los Angeles that coincided with the city’s punk movement, there is much more to the band than good old-fashioned rock and roll.  Los Lobos also did time in the 1980s opening for the Grateful Dead, and it seemed as though the Dead’s spirit was heavily present at the Pier.  Throughout the performance, band members engaged in lengthy, seemingly impromptu solos and jam sessions.

Additionally, roughly half of the band’s set relied on various styles of Latin American music, particularly cumbia, a rhythmic form of folk music that originated in Colombia and Panama, but has been adopted by much of Latin America.  Los Lobos’ work in this area seems most influenced by cumbia norteña, a variation found primarily in Mexico that makes use of the accordion and bass guitar.  In particular, the piece “Cumbia Raza,” which closed the main portion of the performance, proved to be extremely popular with the crowd, prompting everyone from senior citizens to toddlers to join in the dance.

As might be expected, the band closed the night with “La Bamba,” the Ritchie Valens song that Los Lobos performed for the film of the same name and its biggest commercial success.  To spice up the estimated 10-minute rendition of the track, the band added in “Good Lovin’,” a chart-topper for the Young Rascals in the mid-1960s (also, coincidentally, a Grateful Dead live staple in later years).  This portion of the show was stolen by two young audience members.  A boy of about eight years old, introduced as Justin, was brought on stage by Hidalgo to play the maracas.  Meanwhile, a little girl who was only about two or three years old and had been dancing all over the front row for the duration of the concert was placed on stage in between singer/guitarist Cesar Rosas and bassist Conrad Lozano.  As the cameras made a beeline towards the little girl, she stopped for a moment and gave a puzzled look, as if she wanted to ask why everyone was taking her picture.  Then she continued to stomp her feet in time to the beat, showing this was a performance meant to be enjoyed by generations.

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