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Pop Review : Los Lobos: The Fiesta Continues

September 15, 1986|STEVE HOCHMAN

When Los Lobos played the Greek Theatre last year, the evening was as much a fiesta as a concert. Everyone--critics and fans alike--seemed caught up in the success of the East Los Angeles quintet's "How Will the Wolf Survive?" album.

Here was a band that had made the remarkable leap from playing backyards and barrooms around town to international recognition--and it did so with a warm, embracing synthesis of everything from Tex-Mex street music to growling blues.

In returning to the Greek on Saturday night, Los Lobos had the crowd in a party mood once again.

The group opened with the rocking polkas "I Got to Let You Know" and (in Spanish) "Anselma," fueled by the interplay of David Hidalgo's accordion and Steve Berlin's saxophone. Hidalgo, who switches between accordion and guitar, and guitarist Cesar Rosas have each added a few tricks to their already well-stocked instrumental bags; bassist Conrad Lozano's role has become more and more vital to the group sound. And, the old songs still sounded terrific.

But where does Los Lobos go from here?

In the context of the 100-minute show, the half-dozen new songs--for the band's forthcoming second album--suggested that Los Lobos has the ability to master any American pop-rock idiom. The new tunes ranged from a '50s-style close-dancer to a roadhouse shaker to the mainstream rock of "One Night in America."

When seen as the heart of the new LP, though, the songs fall pretty much into the center of the band's spectrum. This meant a slight, though nagging absence of the group's old cross-ethnic frontier spirit.

Though the original mix of barrio and barroom styles was bold, it was accomplished so effortlessly that the music seemed as comfortable as a family picnic. To maximize its artistic potential, the quintet needs to continue challenging itself in that area--rather than reach for some sort of mainstream consensus. The real answer to where the group is headed will be found on its new album, due early next year.

Meanwhile, Los Lobos fans continued to delight in the sounds and success of the band--still as engaging a live attraction as this city has produced in years.

Opening act Robert Cray was an extra treat. Cray resembles a young Muhammad Ali and his bittersweet blues truly float like a butterfly and sting like a bee--slinky, soulful, sexy and sly, centered on Cray's smooth voice and electrifying guitar playing.

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