Los Lobos was onstage at the Performing Arts Center San Luis Obispo on March 14, 2023.
Normally, a touring rock band that reaches 50 years in the business sooner or later becomes a nostalgia act.
Los Lobos are NOT those guys and probably never will be.
Checking out past setlists, I knew going in that this rainy Tuesday night concert at the PAC SLO, presented by Cal Poly Arts, would be unpredictable with a few surprises. Wow, talk about an understatement.
Sure, they ended their performance with a ubiquitous “La Bamba/Good Lovin’” medley 90 minutes after kicking off the festivities with their big 1984 hit “Will the Wolf Survive.” In between those bookends was a myriad of styles, genres, jams, culminating with opening act Gaby Moreno, a Guatemalan singer-songwriter, joining the fellas on two traditional Spanish ballads.
They are one of those bands who’s greater than the sum of their songs, most of which were not hits and rarely played on FM radio.”
But that’s Los Lobos, east LA’s venerable rockers who channel the Grateful Dead with their varied live shows. I could only name a few of the songs but they all sounded wonderful, especially lead guitarist/singer David Hidalgo’s soaring vocals and shredding guitar licks. With founding member and singer guitarist Cesar Rosas (the goateed/sunglassed/lefty face of the band) recovering from hip surgery, Hidalgo did most of the night’s heavy lifting.
He even nailed a lively rendition of “Sail On, Sailor” by the Beach Boys. Who would have guessed that cover? Interspersed with originals like “Evangeline” and “One Time One Night” were other familiar ones like “Come On Let’s Go” by Richie Valens.
Still, it was kind of disappointing that Rosas was absent since the band’s synergy seemed to suffer from that loss of familiarity and less sharing of the mighty musical load. Hidalgo and longtime rhythm guitarist Louie Perez bantered a bit but even they seemed out of sync, conferring several times off mic. At times it felt like they were a new group, starting to feel each other out.
But at the end of the day, it was the legendary Los Lobos performing live on stage: one of our most diverse, creative American rock bands ever, celebrating nearly 50 years as a unique artistic tour de force. Certainly reason enough to not quibble. They are one of those bands who’s greater than the sum of their songs, most of which were not hits and rarely played on FM radio.
Nope, their greatness lies in an array of solid originals, eclectic covers and a genre-bending sound of substance and style.
The nearly sold-out older crowd was attentive and enthusiastic throughout, clearly enjoying the musical journey amid the comfortable, friendly confines of the PAC.
And with the talented Moreno—stylish in a long yellow dress that starkly contrasted with her black-clad, capable backing band—playing a cool 45-minute opening set, it was a two-for-one evening.
That’s never a bad thing.
:: Colin Jones