Los Lobos celebrate 40 years with a new live album.
By Brian Wise.
It doesn’t seem that long ago that we were celebrating the 30th anniversary of Los Lobos with the album The Ride featuring guest appearances from the likes of Tom Waits, Richard Thompson, Dave Alvin and Bobby Womack
Time flies. Now it is on to the 40th year of a Grammy Award-winning band that was already a legend in its East Los Angeles neighborhood before it broke into the commercial realm with the burgeoning LA music scene in the early ‘80s with other bands such as The Blasters, X, Lone Justice and more.
The major label debut for Los Lobos was How Will The Wolf Survive? in 1984 and they have been making acclaimed albums ever since – albums that have been invariably inventive and fascinating. Of course, they had their shot at fame with their cover of Ritchie Valens song ‘La Bamba,’ from the movie of the same name. The soundtrack album went triple platinum in the USA (that’s a lot!)
In true Los Lobos fashion their next studio album, released 25 years ago, contained nine traditional Mexican songs dedicated to Tejano/Mariachi folk music. It bombed and they have continued to make the music they wanted to make rather than become, as they said, ‘tortilla chip salesmen.’
Singer/ guitarist David Hidalgo, drummer Louie Perez, guitarist Cesar Rosas, bassist Conrad Lozano and newcomer Steve Berlin on sax and keyboards (he joined in 1984) have not only explored the limits of their musicianship but have also managed to retain their Mexican roots.
That is evident on the band’s new live album, Disconnected In New York City (as opposed to ‘unplugged’) which given the band’s extensive recording history of more than 15 studio albums, could only have ever been a brief overview.
Recorded with the band in stripped down mode over two nights in December 2012 at The City Winery in NYC, the 12-song set on CD includes a reworking of ‘La Bamba’ in medley with the Young Rascals ‘Good Lovin’,’ ‘Gotta Let You Know” from How Will The Wolf Survive? through ‘Tin Can Trust, the title song from their last studio release in 2010. Other selections include The Neighborhood’s title song, ‘Oh Yeah’ from This Time,’ ‘Set Me Free Rosa Lee’ plus an array of the Mexican songs. The deluxe and digital versions contain four bonus tracks including their version of the Dead’s ‘Bertha’ and ‘Don’t Worry Baby.’ (Just three of the songs also appeared on the Live At the Fillmore released in 2005).
Of course, Los Lobos fans will attest that it is in the live performance that the band excels so what better way to pay tribute to surviving forty years in the music industry. The first question that occurs when I catch up by phone with David Hidalgo at his home in Los Angeles (not far from where he was raised) is just how the band has managed to survive for so long.
“You know, the Stones, or ZZ Top, they were all friends growing up,” he says, “and so I think there’s that bond that keeps it together. If you find something in common that you believe in, you’re interested in, you have that, it holds it together.”
“We got together in Seventy-Three,” he recalls, “and we used to play mostly folk music. We discovered or rediscovered, our heritage in music – the regional styles of Mexico, and Latin America, and we were just devoted to it. So that was our goal to begin with.”
“We’ve done the live acoustic albums, but they were all traditional, the folkloric music I was talking about,” says Hidalgo about the concept for the latest recording. “But this time we wanted to do just another spin on all of the songs we have written over the years. And everybody had their wish list. We got together, and everybody talked about the songs they’d like to do and little by little we narrowed it down to what everybody agreed on and that’s what became the album.
Hidalgo says that the actual show itself was a lot longer than on the new album and admits that the title was a ‘poke at MTV or VH1 and Unplugged.’ He says there is no deeper meaning
“Well, we couldn’t have used it [Unplugged] anyway,” he notes, “but we decided we wanted to keep it light too. People know that we’re still, we’re not taking ourselves too seriously, we’re just trying to do something nice, hopefully, as a thank you back to the fans, people that throughout the years followed us.
“Each night we go out and do what we do, what we think is the right thing to do and then we get the response from the audience and then we follow their lead. If they know that they want to dance then it’s okay. Or if it’s a sit down audience and you can get away with, you know, quieter songs or more ballads or you could do that too.”
“Maybe if we had stuck with the whole ‘La Bamba’ thing,” says Hidalgo, “maybe it would have been more lucrative or whatever but that’s not the way we think. We’ve always been into music for the sake of music and this band has been our outlet. You know, each guys of the band feels the same way, we don’t want to repeat ourselves, we want to, we’re not an oldies act… Well we are, sort of, but I mean, we try to keep it moving forward!”
Disconnected In New York City is available now through 429 records.