Music was the principal focus of Latino rocker Ritchie Valens' life but the only importance placed on music at the "La Bamba" party at the Palace on Friday night was its value as a marketing tool. The event, which included brief sets by Los Lobos and other artists on the sound track album, was a classic Hollywood schmooze with a predominantly movie industry crowd plus some representatives of the local music scene and members of Valens' family.
The only rock 'n' roll touch was the even mixture of customized '50s cars and customary limousines pulling up to the curb to discharge passengers onto the red carpet. Inside, there were two television sets showing Los Lobos' "La Bamba" video clip in the Palace foyer, tables on the dance floor and plenty of strategically placed Coca-Cola signs lest anyone forget which soft drink company owns Columbia Pictures, the studio which is releasing "La Bamba."
Outside, there were reportedly many disgruntled ticket-holders who couldn't get in because too many tickets had been distributed to the event. And it was encouraging, in a perversely democratic way, that the fire marshals were just as willing to delay--and threaten to close down--a big-time industry bash as a regular rock show for overcrowding.
At least the music provided some wildly incongruous visual elements. There was Marshall Crenshaw, resembling an earnest young Trotskyite in a Nudie's suit, who perform three pop-rock songs against a pale blue/green Hawaiian backdrop of a surfer and four dancers in the standard lei and grass-skirt ensemble.
And Brian Setzer, from Stray Cats fame, performed his three songs of black leather rockabilly against a yellow/orange backdrop adorned with images of a trumpet, piano, saxophone and cowboy hats. But attention was easily diverted from the musicians by the five cameras, two onstage and three in the audience, filming the event for MTV.
On a balcony, you could watch MTV's Mark Goodman, Lou Diamond Phillips (who plays Valens in "La Bamba") and Gary Busey (who starred in "The Buddy Holly Story" years ago) prepare for an intermission interview while Crenshaw played. Tune in during Setzer's performance and you caught the quartet of Tito Larriva and Chalo Quintana from the Cruzados, Charlie Sexton and Roy Orbison warming up for their segment with Goodman.
Los Lobos's half-hour set had the proper mixture of seriousness and irreverence to generate some motion on the dance floor. Instead of running through the Valens material from the movie, the quintet offered a mixture of material ranging from the current "One Time One Night" to the rollicking "Let's Say Goodnight."
Guitarist David Hidalgo dedicated the latter tune to Chicago blues songwriter Willie Dixon in the audience. He later swapped instruments with drummer Louie Perez when Bo Diddley lugged his square guitar onstage to perform "Who Do You Love" with the band.
When the set concluded, inevitably, with "La Bamba," Cesar Rosas cracked up his bandmates with mock guitar hero moves as he played a blistering solo; Hidalgo answered in kind by playing a few Jimi Hendrix licks at the end of the song. It was enjoyable, but little more than a teaser for the group's Greek Theater show July 31.