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Pop Music Review

Lobos in Playboys' Clothing Put on Solid Show

April 02, 1999|RANDY LEWIS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Even people who live in Tahiti need to go somewhere else now and then, which helps explain the Latin Playboys--a moonlighting project started about five years ago by Los Lobos' singer-guitarist-songwriter David Hidalgo and drummer-songwriter Louie Perez.

With the release of their second Playboys album, "Dose," the part-time outfit, in which Hidalgo and Perez are joined by producer-musicians Mitchell Froom and Tchad Blake, is on its first tour, which stopped Wednesday at the Galaxy Concert Theatre in Santa Ana.

The question raised by the tour--on which the four are joined by drummer Ruben Estrada and on several numbers by opening act Lisa Germano--is how the skillful amalgam of music and sonic effects on the Playboys' two albums would work in a live setting. Not surprisingly, given these players' lifetime batting averages, the 70-minute set worked quite well.

The Playboys' idea of a good time is the shotgun wedding of progressive and roots rock--something few have attempted, let alone accomplished. What makes their odd-couple approach work is that their careening melodic, harmonic and textural flights of fancy are anchored through Latin dance rhythms to the world of living, breathing human beings.

It's as if King Crimson learned to polka, which is pretty much where the Playboys wound up at the end of "Paletero," a song from "Dose" that carves out a meeting ground between conjunto music founding father Valerio Longoria and Deep Purple.

"Cuca's Blues" is typical of "Dose," a reminiscence made at once tangibly real and dreamily reflective by the fitful interplay of Hidalgo's sweet vocals and stinging electric guitar lines with Froom's moody keyboard parts.

Such experiments take the ones on Los Lobos' "Kiko" and "Colossal Head" albums even further. The result isn't light years from Lobos' most ambitious efforts, which made the low turnout for the Playboys--the 550-capacity club was maybe half full--a bit surprising.

Hidalgo and Perez don't roam far from the thematic territory they've explored so well in Lobos--celebrating the moments of joy that make life's struggles bearable. They do, however, allow themselves to get sillier than they do in their day jobs.

Singer-songwriter Germano, who played her violin with the Playboys, stuck to charmingly cheesy electronic keyboards and a nominally tuned Fender Telecaster in her solo opening set. The raw, sparse accompaniment brought her emotional honesty and vulnerability even more to the forefront than on her recordings.

She's a kindred spirit with the Playboys in using myriad textures and sounds to make her lyrics more visceral. More than most, her music seems to serve as catharsis, for the tales of romantic uncertainty and disillusionment seemed a world away from her fresh-faced, upbeat stage demeanor.

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