Snowfall and 70-mph winds created a whiteout on Sierra Nevada passes and highways were deemed too dangerous to keep open. With a GPS to direct them, out-of-town motorists on side streets slid into berms, stalling any semblance of traffic flow. Tempers flared, horns honked. It was a blizzard.
But inside, a warm, lavender glow filled in a music hall on the north shore of Lake Tahoe. Folks who battled the elements to arrive at the Crystal Bay Casino wore winter boots and swayed to a dreamy groove played by a band that had flown in from Los Angeles before the storm began.
Los Lobos didn’t refer to a set list. Instead, it improvised into the night and played a heavy dose of its transformational 1992 masterpiece album, “Kiko.”
Started by childhood friends in the 1970s, Los Lobos del Este de Los Angeles – Just another band from East L.A. – caught the attention of music critics with the album “How Will The Wolf Survive,” a statement about a band’s likelihood for success while staying true to its Mexican heritage. In 1987, when Los Lobos played the soundtrack for the Ritchie Valens biopic “La Bamba,” mainstream listeners became hip to the group’s rockabilly-Chicano style.
Not only did Los Lobos survive, it evolved to become a quintessential Americana band. “Kiko” took rock ‘n’ roll into a new realm.
Hill Country bluesman Mississippi Fred McDowell and successors such as Junior Kimbrough and R.L Burnside put listeners into a trance with a percussive, single chord “hypnotic boogie.” Miles Davis and John Coltrane were likeminded artists who moved bebop into the modal jazz. Los Lobos songwriters David Hidalgo and Louie Perez, who began collaborating in high school all those years ago, and bandmates produced a dreamy masterpiece of steady groove with songs such as “Kiko and The Lavender Moon,” “Saint Behind The Glass,” “Just A Man,” “Wake Up Delores” and “Peace.”
“We build a wall of stone
As high as the trees are tall
Higher than the mountains
Stronger than us all, oh yeah
Some day that wall will crumble
Tumble and fall, the sun will shine
And bring peace to us all
Say yeah, yeah, yeah”
— “Peace” from Los Lobos’ transformative and sentient 1992 album “Kiko’ [/pullquote]Creatively, the band has never looked back, enduring, recording and playing another three brilliant decades.
While a furious snowstorm caused chaos in the streets, Los Lobos opened its show at Crystal Bay on Saturday with, a touch of irony, “Will The Wolf Survive” and “Dream In Blue,” which is the opening track on “Kiko.”
Guitarist Cesar Rosas was not present, but that allowed more time for Perez to sing leads. Amiable bass player Conrad Lozano and drummer Enrique “Bugs” Gonzalez set the groove with their rhythms. Steve Berlin, who has become the most diverse and sought-out producer, played organ melodies and filled the spaces with mood-setting baritone saxophone and flute solos.
Hidalgo lets his music do the talking for the most part. But he did respond to an audience member with a joke about Rosas’ absence. He also apologized for a “senior moment” during a delay between songs. Los Lobos’ library of original and cover songs is massive. The selections on this night set the tone perfectly. The covers included “Bertha,” from the “Deadicated” album and there were a couple of songs by Neil Young, with whom the band has toured – “Cortez The Killer” and “Cinnamon Girl.”
The snow piled up during the more-than-2-hour performance, yet the audience called for an encore.
“I gotta say one, two, three more things before I go on,” Hidalgo sang as the band went into “Good Morning Aztlan.” The trance was broken as concertgoers danced to the up-tempo rocker, warming their legs for adventurous car rides back in the snowstorm.
— Tim Parsons