in performance: los lobos

Los Lobos. From left: Conrad Lozano, David Hidalgo, Steve Berlin, Cesar Rosas and Louie Perez. Photo courtesy of Paradigm Music Library.

Now here is an audience cheer you don’t often encounter at your everyday rock ‘n’ roll show.

“Everybody cumbia!”

That was the invitation from guitarist Cesar Rosas as Los Lobos headed into the home stretch of a jubilant career overview concert Thursday evening at Manchester Music Hall.

Of course, with Los Lobos, even seemingly foreign sounds as cumbia are no more presented as novelties than they are as purist reflections of musical tradition. As such, the Columbian dance rhythms at the heart of “Chuco’s Cumbia” mingled with shades of rockish psychedelia, courtesy of the myriad guitar voicings of Lobos co-frontman David Hidalgo and the boppish glee of baritone saxophonist Steve Berlin. So, in short, expecting an audience to break into cumbia-inspired dance was as unlikely as it was thinking Los Lobos wouldn’t liberally borrow from a pantry full of ethnic accents.

Ironically, the 90 minute set began on pretty traditional terms with the same four players that began Los Lobos in 1973 – Rosas, Hidalgo, Louie Perez and Conrad Lozano – taking to the stage alone with a sampler of acoustic tunes that accelerated from the brisk and brittle Mexican folk stride of the show opening “Canto A Veracruz” to the Tex Mex drive of “Mexico Americano” with Berlin and drummer Bugs González entering the lineup.

From there the cross pollination began as the show turned to rock ‘n’ roll. Rosas piloted the giddy, roots-savvy “Shakin’ Shakin’ Shakes” while Hildalgo took charge on a majestically orchestral “Angel Dance” as well as a keenly noir-flavored “Kiko and the Lavender Moon”.

A few kindred inspirations were also channeled. A set closing cover of the Grateful Dead staple “Bertha” surrendered fully to jamming instincts revealed more sparingly earlier in the performance, while the hit 1987 cover of Ritchie Valens’ “La Bamba” (presented as a festive mash-up encore with the vintage Rascals hit “Good Lovin’”) offered the band’s most recognizable and accessible nod to its Latin heritage.

It was all good fun, even though everyone onstage – save for the continually grinning Lozano – looked like pokerfaced dads as they played. But don’t judge Los Lobos by its stage presence. All you needed to hear was the block party pairing of the Tex Mex romps “Anselma” and “Let’s Say Goodnight” late in the set to understand just how hard at play these rocking patriarchs truly were.

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