Friday, December 6, 2013

Leftovers (Storytelling): One Time, One Night

Los Lobos: One Time, One Night

Los Lobos deserve to be considered as one of the greatest American rock bands of all time. They deserve to be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (and that’s not only my opinion). They deserve to be remembered for a remarkably diverse body of work, and not just for covering “La Bamba.” My wife and I saw them last night at the Tarrytown Music Hall on their 40th!! Anniversary Tour, and they blew us away. (And opener Amy Helm and her band were also incredible).

In 2011, we got tickets to see Los Lobos at the Music Hall, and we were very excited. We had seen them back in 1987, not too long after we started dating, at The Pier in New York. For those who don't remember The Pier, it was an outdoor venue on the Hudson River in Manhattan, near where the Intrepid is now. Every summer, they would set up a stage, a bunch of uncomfortable metal chairs and a few food vendors, and for very little money, there would be great music. I saw so many great shows there, ranging from The Clash and U2 to Miles Davis, King Crimson and Jean-Luc Ponty. I saw Elvis Costello and Pat Metheny. Not to mention Stanley Jordan. At the time, Los Lobos were hot, fresh off the success of “La Bamba,” but my wife and I appreciated their other work. Even better, the opening act was The Smithereens, another great band (but not my daughter’s future a capella group).

The show was great. Both bands rocked, and we had fun. Over the next few years, we really enjoyed what Los Lobos were doing. In addition to exposing us to various forms of Mexican folk music, they also demonstrated their abilities to play rock, blues, jazz, folk and even odd experimental music. And yet, despite the consistently high quality of their music, their popularity decreased from the probably artificial high of the “La Bamba” years.

For whatever reason, it wasn’t until 2011 that we decided to go see Los Lobos again, at the Music Hall, and I know that we were excited. The opening act was blues legend Taj Mahal, and he rocked the place. Then, Los Lobos came out. And they were awful. They were missing their usual drummer.  David Hidalgo, their great vocalist/guitarist/accordion player seemed off his game and the band was lethargic. Maybe it was because it was the opening night of the tour, or because of the personnel issues, but they chose to play a set that was heavy on Spanish language songs and light on their more recognizable numbers (to an Anglo audience, at least). Which is not to say that there weren’t some good moments, but overall, we left disappointed.

Last year, the band returned to the Music Hall to perform one of their best albums, Kiko, in its entirety. We chose not to attend, and, as it turned out, Cesar Rosas, the band’s other main singer and guitarist, was out sick.

But, for some reason, when the Music Hall announced another show, with Amy Helm as the opener, we decided to give them another chance. And they really delivered. Playing a good mix of songs from their entire career, as befits an Anniversary Tour, they seemed to be in sync and having fun. Everyone was there—including their remarkable newish tour drummer, Bugs Gonzalez, who appeared to be having a blast. They ended the first set with an incredible medley—starting with “Dream in Blue” then segueing into a cover of Traffic’s “40,000 Headmen,” complete with flute, which turned into “Maricela,” before morphing into a raucous Spanglish “Más y Más.” For the final encore, they brought out Amy Helm’s band (without Amy, who had joined them earlier in the set for two songs) to replace Gonzalez on drums and Conrad Lozano on bass, and added Helm's incredible guitarist Dan Littleton to the mix for a raucous cover of The Sir Douglas Quintet’s “She’s About a Mover.” Everyone was having fun, and about halfway through the song, Hidalgo put down his guitar and switched into the drum seat.

To me, though, the high point of the night was their version of “One Time, One Night,” which is not only one of my favorite Los Lobos songs, but is one of my favorite songs, period. The wrenchingly sad story of how life doesn’t always work out, even “in the home of the brave [and] this land here of the free,” always affects me. It made me think and actually brought me close to tears.

And in the end, isn’t that what a good story is supposed to do?