los lobos • the big bad wolves come out to play

Musical instruments be damned. I think that David Hildago could easily extract a melody out of my derelict Hoover vacuum cleaner… “

 

by mike morgan

 

On the sidewalk outside of the Irving Plaza music venue, which now calls itself the Fillmore East (probably a cheap ploy to cash in on the ageing Allman Brothers/John Mayall fan base before they all go to meet Duane in the sky), the line at the door had an international smattering. I know this because I was approached by a Scandinavian sounding woman who queried with raised eyebrows, “Loos Looboos?” “Yah! Yah!” I replied and told her that it was a boonus that Loos Looboos were in town. “They serve Yack Daniels in there,” I added, “by the yugful, a yigantic boonus.”

Others in the queue for the Fillmore East (Irving Plaza?) that evening included the occasional low-rider sucking on a bottle of Negra Modelo and, of course, the Germans. The Germans were standing in front of me. One of them poked his mitt in the air, eerily resembling a form of German salutation popular there some seventy years ago, and pointed to the northern city skyline. “Das Kreizler Building!” he authoritatively informed his kameraden. Maybe he was making an observation about the current state of the US automobile industry. Perhaps he was still peeved that the Allies only shelled out a mere $33 million in reparations to another one of the Big Three, General Motors, as an apology for bombing its Opel factory on Third Reich property during World War II. Whatever the reasons, he too was about to enter Der Wolfsschanze (the Wolf’s Lair) on the eastern front of the USA.

Los Lobos are a central part of the family tree that is the heritage of Chicano music in this country. They, together with the likes of Lil’ Julian Herrera & The Tigers, The Premiers, The Blendells, The Jaguars, Little Ray, The Ambertones, Thee Midniters with Little Willie G, Freddie Fender, The Salas Brothers, Richie Valens, The Blazers, Sunny & The Sunglows, Cannibal & The Headhunters, Don Tosti, Question Mark & The Mysterians, Malo, Flaco Jimenez, Alejandro Escovedo, El Vez, and Los Cruzados to name a few, share these branches. Los Lobos began in 1973 as a backyard band playing at neighborhood parties in their tough barrio of East Los Angeles. They specialized in Tejano music back then, boleros and the traditional folk songs of Mexican Americans. They soon incorporated rhythm & blues and rock & roll into their sound. By 1976, Los Lobos were the house band at a restaurant called “The Red Onion” in Pasadena. They went on to forge a relationship with another popular rock & roll gringo outfit from Downey, California, The Blasters. Together, both bands burned up the clubs on the strip and in the valley. Los Lobos (Cesar Rojas, David Hildago, Louie Perez, Conrad Lozano and Steve Berlin) made sizzling records from the early 1980s onwards, showcasing all of their musical influences but always remaining true to their roots. “Will The Wolf Survive” never sinks too low from the top of my pile of records. Today, they are still at it. In my humble opinion, Los Lobos are a terrific band.

Inside the Irving Plaza (Fillmore East?), the internationalists and the locals waited with bated breath, as opposed to the puddy tat who swallowed a piece of Stilton and lay in wait for the mouse with baited breath. Positioned upstairs behind the soundboard, our trio (Matt, Adrianne and moi) was perfectly situated, with an unpopulated accessible bar to our rear. The major mass of humanity was below us on the main floor, elbowing and nudging each other with back-packs, Dos Equis and Spanish/English dictionaries. The only sideshow distraction was a gleefully blotto windbag down the way. This loud one regularly let loose with his signature bellow of a command, namely “YOU KNOW WHAT TO DO!” (and he wasn’t even a part of the German entourage). Such punishment was manageable. That night, the sole performing artists were Los Lobos. They divvied up their show into two segments, unplugged and plugged in. Without following orders from this thunderous blowhard, Los Lobos knew what to do.

Adrianne transforms herself into a pogoing heebie-jeebie at these events. From that moment on, Matt and I referred to her only by her newly acquired Lakota name. She is now “Dances With Wolves.”

David Hildago has a beautiful singing voice, reminiscent of a young Steve Winwood in his prime, strong yet able to reach all of the highs. The years have not affected this gift. Cesar Rojas has more of a Bo Diddley growl. He grinds and sweats his way through numbers. Together, they make a formidable vocal team. The singing alone makes you want to rush home and play your old Traffic or Jackie Wilson records, they’re that good. All three guitar players trade licks in classic jam band fashion (remember they are from California), but this is akin to being at a jazz performance. The listeners might lose track of the original riff, but the players eventually get back to where they started from. I once read a review of David Hildago’s musicianship wherein the author claimed it seemed that on stage he could play any kind of musical instrument. Musical instruments be damned. I think that David Hildago could easily extract a melody out of my derelict Hoover vacuum cleaner.

The last time I saw Los Lobos play was in 1987 at a summer concert held at the pier on the West Side of Manhattan, next to the aircraft-carrier. These shows were cheaper and more affordable than most others and the composition of the audience showed it. Los Lobos’ rendition of “La Bamba” (the song from the film of the same name about Richie Valens) was then top of the charts all over the world. Sitting behind us in the bleachers was a sizeable contingent of young Mexican men and women, working people. This was serious cerveza and Ray-Ban time. These folks had come to hear the old neighborhood music, the indigenous groove, and they showed little tolerance for the big Anglicized hits. They voiced their disapproval/approval by loudly grumbling during the latter and cheering wildly when the band played the former. Naturally, this went against the desires of the mostly white crowd. There was one particular song the Mexicans wanted to hear, “Sabor a Mi,” and they yelled relentlessly for it to be performed. Neither being spoilers nor rank opportunists, we had little choice but to do the right thing and join in with them. The solution was to increase the volume of the exhortation. Soon our entire section of the stands was vociferously demanding this tune, even though quite a few would have been clueless as to what it was and probably wouldn’t have recognized it. That’s a direct example of the indirect positive effect that a band like Los Lobos can have…a little cross-border solidarity with the working class, as opposed to the NAFTA brand. Let Bon Jovi or Bono and his gang try to pull off that kind of internationalism.

Meanwhile at the Fillmore East (Irving Plaza?), the band had kicked into “Bertha” (an old Grateful Dead/Jerry Garcia song without the Birkenstock sandals and knobbly knees) and Dances With Wolves was gyrating her own version of the Ubangi Stomp. This is a cross between the Mashed Potato and the Locomotion, a primitive hippie ritual designed to encourage precipitation (in other words, a rain dance). The nearby barker was suffering from an Irish cough medicine induced overdose. His new line of march was an ass-backwards variation of his previous one and had morphed into “I KNOW WHAT YOU DO!” He was running on empty.

When Los Lobos had belted out their final tune, “My Generation” by The Who, the houselights went on at the Irving Plaza (Fillmore East?). I noticed Das Kreizler Building a few rows ahead of us on the rail. He was gesticulating in an extremely animated fashion to the Loos Looboos woman…another German showboater in need of a balcony. We walked west from the Fillmore East (Irving Plaza?) feeling no pain and howling at the moon. The wolves are not yet extinct. They roam the streets of our city.

Originally published:
Issue Fifty-Four
April 2009

 


A Brooklynite by way of Wales and South Africa, Mike Morgan is the founder of Burrow Magazine and serves as one of its Senior Editors and Contributors. In addition to these duties, he has been and continues to be at the heart of a thriving literary, art and music scene and is a regular at several neighborhood bars, where he can be found discussing global and local affairs, rock and roll, various New York sports teams, and whatever books he happens to be reading at the time. More from Mike Morgan can be found in the Vault of Smoke.

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