Los Lobos are on their first extended tour in more than two years, promoting a new album, "The Neighborhood," and over the phone it sounded as if drummer Louie Perez had brought his neighborhood along with him to his San Francisco hotel room.
Most of the din, it turns out, was being provided by his 15-month-old son Matthew. Family men to a fault, the band members had flown their spouses up to be with them during their Bay Area shows.
"Since we're looking at being away from home all the way through Thanksgiving, we brought the girls up," Perez said. "We got spoiled being at home for so long."
Not much else has had a spoiling effect on the East L.A.-bred band: not Grammy awards; not the nearly universal critical acclaim accorded the group since its 1983 debut "And a Time to Dance" and certainly not the unlooked-for No. 1 hit Los Lobos had in 1987 with "La Bamba."
On "The Neighborhood," Perez, David Hidalgo (who with Perez writes most of the band's songs), Cesar Rosas, Steve Berlin and Conrad Lozano remain as uncompromising and emotionally open as ever. The songs illuminate pieces of life with a firm assurance and a daring simplicity.
The title song deals with the decay of their old neighborhood. "There's a lot of the stuff that you can't get away from on the news," Perez said, "the violence and drugs and all. It's really changed." Perez plans to move his mother to Whittier, where he and Hidalgo now live.
Whittier is practically in Orange County, if you squint at the map, and Perez said the county "is like my turf now. . . . I head there a lot. My son was born at St. Jude Hospital on Harbor Boulevard (in Fullerton). My older son and his friends are always heading down that way, and so is my wife, Mary. I have to frisk her every time she's heading to the MainPlace or South Coast Plaza to make sure she's not carrying any plastic. We're a typical mall family now."
There are aspects of Orange County life that Perez doesn't consider especially neighborly.
"In these tract homes it seems like the whole sense of community is gone. You never know who your neighbor is. It's like you pull up to one of these houses, push your button and the huge gate of your garage door opens, you slip your car in and no one knows you're ever there, or that anyone even lives there. It's a strange, faceless sort of way of living."
While for the past few years Los Lobos has been playing concert halls--such as Los Angeles' Greek Theatre, where they play Friday--the group is playing a rare club gig at the Coach House tonight. Perez said that the band has always loved playing the club and that "a lot of fond memories for us are in Orange County. Back when we were starting to play in Hollywood, every so often we'd make a swing down to the Golden Bear, Radio City and other places, which were great. We really made a lot of friends there."
Who: Los Lobos.
When: Thursday, Oct. 18, at 8 p.m.
Where: Coach House, 33157 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano.
Whereabouts: Take Interstate 5 to the San Juan Creek Road exit. Left onto Camino Capistrano. The Coach House is in the Esplanade Center.
Where to call: (714) 496-8930.