Thursday night at the Crossroads showroom at Hawaiian Brian’s, the world-class Los Lobos was the greatest bar band playing in Honolulu.
Kicking off an interisland leg of their 40th anniversary tour, the Wolves from East Los Angeles showed that they’ve been around the block and then some, so much so that they didn’t even bother playing off of a setlist. Sure, they had to perform some of their concert staples, like the gorgeous “Little John of God” and “Kiko and the Lavender Moon,” the poignant “One Time One Night,” the swinging “Let’s Say Goodnight,” and, of course, their breakout cover of “La Bamba,” which also included an inspired bit of the Young Rascals’ classic raver “Good Lovin’.”
Other that, the guys pretty much kept things loose and impromptu. The frontline of César Rosas and David Hidalgo, Steve Berlin, and the monster rhythm section of Conrad Lozano and Enrique “Bugs” Gonzalez gave Oahu’s baby boomers an inspired evening of blues, rock and Mexican roots music. (Fellow founding member Louie Pérez did not make the trip to Hawaii, having to deal with a major house move back in L.A.)
As an added bonus, Hidalgo invited slack-key master Ledward Ka‘apana to sit in on a couple songs — the aforementioned “One Night,” adding to the dream-like intro of the song on a ringing electric guitar of Hidalgo’s, and a spur-of-the-moment cover of Jimmy Reed’s “Baby, What You Want Me to Do,” which Led soloed through with blues-rock confident licks.
One fan shouted for, and got, an inspired run-through of “Farmer John,” the 1964 R’n'R hit by The Premiers and the first for a Chicano band that went nationwide. The show was sprinkled with Spanish-language songs, including the hip-swaying cumbia “Yo Canto.” By night’s end, an elated, if spent, audience called for a “hana hou,” and received two encores, first the aforementioned “La Bamba,” and then with Buddy Holly’s “Not Fade Away,” nicely segueing into a song that they’ve made their own, “Bertha,” originally done by The Grateful Dead.
Having seen the band a number of times over the decades, Los Lobos struck me that, when given the situation offered Thursday night, in a more casual club setting, they’re at their best. The band’s interplay is that much more spontaneous. Berlin colors the music with punctuations of tenor and baritone sax, Lozano and particularly the younger Enriquez absolutely kills it rhythmically, and the singing and guitar work of Rosas and Hidalgo are absolutely phenomenal. Rosas personifies rock ‘n’ roll soul ‘n’ grit. Hidalgo, casual and unassuming on stage, is truly a guitar god. His clear and concise soloing had me frequently shaking my head in awe and wonderment. And he plays a mean button accordion, too.
If the band approximates this amount of energy for the rest of this part of the tour, audiences on Maui, the Big Island and Kaua‘i are in for a memorable treat.