Los Lobos were playing in our neighborhood last weekend. Next town over, anyway (proposition: Springfield is to Eugene what East L.A. is to L.A.). Despite, or perhaps because of, our disappointment with them last time we saw them, we'd been wanting to see them again. So we did.
The setting was a community parks & recreation department sponsored Summer Fair thing on Island Park, a little riverside park on the edge of town. Nice outdoor setting, nice breeze as the sun went down. Not too crowded, and I couldn't believe it was big enough to lure Los Lobos. But then again, Cheap Trick's playing the Lane County Fair this weekend, and they once played Budokan.
The opener this time was Curtis Salgado, a local blues guy who's been on the bill at a number of fairs and festivals I've gone to since moving to Eugene, but who I'd never actually managed to see. For me he was a big meh. I wanted to like him more, but as a singer he struck me as someone living out John Belushi's dream - it's no surprise that Salgado was evidently the real-life inspiration for the Blues Brothers. But I like the Blues Brothers, so why didn't I like Salgado? ...Anyway, vocally he was overbearing and hammy. And his band was tight but unsubtle: his drummer had a beat like a cop (to borrow a phrase from Rob Stoner), and the other guys were just as obvious. Hard where they should've been gentle, stiff where they should've been supple, rigid where merely hard would have done.
But David Hidalgo seemed to like Salgado - he could be seen watching from the edge of the stage during the last few numbers, and then he brought Salgado on for a couple of numbers near the end of Los Lobos' set. And the drummer (which was a shame - I think LL's touring drummer Enrique Gonzales is much better). Salgado was a much better harp player with LL than with his own band, really adding some blues to "West LA Fadeaway," and helping burn down the barn on the big jam on "Killing Floor."
Los Lobos' set was very bluesy, perhaps in response to Salgado's warmup - but then, they've got a lot of blues in everything they do. A longago Rolling Stone review said "they play the blues like a Latin Zeppelin," which was only really true on one cut on their first album, but which was true all night tonight. It was a raging take on "I Walk Alone" that brought the quote to mind for me.
They started the set with "Dream In Blue," which took shape out of a jam that I swear included a nod to Santana's "Batuka." Played four songs from The Neighborhood, an underrated album, including "Emily," which would seem to have been too delicate for the mood of the evening, but which they nailed anyway. Otherwise it was blues: "Down On The Riverbed" and "Georgia Slop."
And of course it was night and day with Salgado's band. "Georgia Slop" wasn't too far from the kind of thing Salgado was doing, but in Los Lobos' hands it was just effortless. It simultaneously swung and slammed, shouted and giggled. If soul means anything, it means what Los Lobos got.
One of the joyful contrasts with the last show was how thoroughly they explored the Spanish-language side of their music. Not one but three cumbias (I still think their first, "Maricela," is their best, and it was tonight, too - they nailed the song's the sinister mesmerism). And "Ay Que Te Dejo En San Antonio," and "Volver, Volver." No surprises, if you check the setlists, but good God: "Volver" was a grinder. Wonderfully raunchy, drenched with sweat.
The surprise highlight for me might have been "Don't Keep Me Wondering," the Allman Brothers tune that they pulled out during Curtis Salgado's guest spot. I know it's been in their repertoire for a while, but it was a surprise to me, and proved yet again that Los Lobos can play anything, and own it.
It was a very satisfying show, and I'm not sure I have any more profound analysis than that to offer. It was just one of those sessions where I was getting off watching instrumentalists do their stuff in perfect cooperation. Lozano's double-wide bass combining with Gonzales's rolling, tumbling drums, not one not two but three count'em three guitarists soloing, riffing, and rhythmeening, Steve Berlin adding just the right textures behind it all, the shortstop who lets nothing get by him. They're a great band. I can't think of any higher praise.