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Los Lobos, calls the shots

City Winery Boston, Boston, December 19, 2018

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

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It would have been easy for Los Lobos to have concentrated on their hits and play what the fans would presumably want to hear. The Los Angeles-based veterans did some of that - in their own way - but this was far from a case of dancing with the one(s) that brought you.

Los Lobos offered two completely different sets with the first being acoustic and comprised mainly of what one of the lead singers, Cesar Rosas (he's the one who always wears shades), said was old Mexican folk songs. The second set went electric with Los Lobos rocking pretty hard.

Most of the opening set featured songs sung in Spanish, of course, by Rosas and guitarist David Hidalgo with the group playing traditional instruments. Bassist Conrad Lozano played the guitarr"n, an awfully large acoustic bass. Hidalgo was on the requinto jarocho, which looks like a smaller acoustic guitar. The overall effect was a warm set off pretty sounding songs ("La pistola y el coraz"n").

They closed it with "Guantanamera," putting their own spin on the stand-out song. Hey, why do a cover if you're just going to do it like everybody else?

The closing hour-long second set didn't bar much of any resemblance with the band rocking hard, sometimes going a bit bluesy, rootsy and even sounding like the Allman Brothers. Being together for 45 years, it's no surprise how well Los Lobos meshed musically. Steve Berlin was stellar on baritone sax and keyboards. Hidalgo switched to accordion as needed, when he wasn't a force on guitar. But it's his vocals that stood out, particularly on "Kiko and the Lavender Moon."

But while Rosas and Hidalgo are excellent vocalists, Hidalgo unfortunately suffered from problems in being clearly heard with the sound mix.

Yes, they played a few of their best-known songs, including "How Will the Wolf Survive." But there was no "Donna" - among others.

For those whose knowledge of Los Lobos starts and pretty much ends with its version of "La Bamba," Hidalgo delivered on that. But - and it's a big but - it wasn't exactly what the fans might have come to expect. Instead, the group offered a very slowed down version of the chestnut. It recalled what Dylan would do to some of his songs - rework them so much that they weren't necessarily so recognizable.

Still, it was well done and conceived. One suspected that Los Lobos needed to do something different to keep it fresh for themselves.

Playing without a set list, the night had a loose feel about it with the band sometimes deciding on the spot what to play and coming through on one fan's request as well.

At this point in their career, Los Lobos can call the shots. Given shows like this, it makes for an evening of much diversity music-wise and unexpected ideas. Nothing wrong with keeping that.