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Friday the 13th: A lucky day for Lobos

The seminal L.A. band fills Disney Hall with its passionate and exciting mix of sounds.

October 16, 2006|Steve Appleford | Special to The Times

Some bands are built to last, fueled not by trends or chart action but by an internal commitment to culture and community. Los Lobos has played big rooms and small ones in Los Angeles over the last 33 years, and the result is always the same: a sound that is traditional, eccentric, intimate and exciting.

On Friday, Los Lobos brought that rewarding mix to the epic scene of Walt Disney Concert Hall, where the band delivered more than two hours of music. But the tone and texture were set from its first few moments onstage, as Los Lobos picked up acoustic folk instruments (and Steve Berlin's tenor sax) for the sweet, forlorn "La Pistola y el Corazon."

Los Lobos can rock hard when it chooses to, and the group did so Friday night. But the warm acoustics at Disney Hall seemed to inspire a desire for subtlety, with several more folk tunes and Spanish words of love and drama, mostly sung by guitarist Cesar Rosas, and the excited plucking and strumming of guitars by David Hidalgo and Louie Perez.

There was a gentle, urgent "El Cuchipe" and some great honking sax work on "Maricela." And bassist Conrad Lozano took a rare lead vocal on the Cuban standard "Guantanamera."

"This is Friday the 13th, man," Rosas warned with a smile. "Anything could happen."

Disney Hall is barely two miles from the old concrete cavern of the Grand Olympic Auditorium, where in 1980 a then-unknown Los Lobos del Este de Los Angeles made its debut on the local rock scene, opening for Public Image Ltd., whose unruly punk fans showered the stage with quarters. By then, Lobos had been playing for years at East L.A. weddings and other social events, a band of Garfield High kids raised on traditional Mexican folk and classic rock and blues.

That is an old story now, but it still says something of the band's longevity and scope. There have been wild experiments through the years, from roots rock to cosmic trips into the nether regions of folk, jazz and pop, yet the music has somehow always been grounded in a Mexican folk and lowdown blues.

The band was loose and comfortable despite the inevitable formality of Disney Hall, and members dealt with a few technical glitches with good humor. As Hidalgo prepared to perform the rich, swampy blues of a new song, "Hold On" (from Los Lobos' elegant new album, "The Town and the City"), his guitar slipped from his hands and fell hard to the stage floor.

"Friday the 13th," he said with a smile, and soon joked, "We're trying to put together a big show for you guys, but we just don't know how."

Not likely.

Los Lobos at Disney Hall was just what we've learned to expect these last three decades -- warm, passionate and infinitely rewarding.

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