- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Los Lobos released their 11th studio album, “The Ride” (Hollywood/Mammoth), last month, celebrating the long and winding road the critically acclaimed Mexican-American band from East Los Angeles set out upon some 30 years ago.

To mark the milestone, the Lobos invited some of their musical heroes (Tom Waits, Bobby Womack, Elvis Costello, Mavis Staples, Reuben Blades — and the Band’s sublime keyboardist, Garth Hudson) to join them in crafting “The Ride.”

The results are a joyful noise indeed: a blistering fusion of the Lobos’ distinctive, self-proclaimed “Chicano funk,” R&B;, soul and rock ‘n’ roll.

“It was like a birthday party we had that lasted for months,” says Lobos founding member and guitarist-singer Louie Perez. “And we can relive it again and again playing the music out on the road.”

The Lobos’ road show cruises into the 9:30 Club tonight. And while Mr. Waits and company won’t be riding shotgun, concertgoers can expect the highly energized performances for which the band is known — and then some.

After their hit breakthrough remake of Ritchie Valens’ “La Bamba” in 1987 , the Lobos have sounded as though they have something to prove.

Saxophone player Steve Berlin says the group wanted “The Ride” and its live supporting tour to be not only a milestone, but also a statement that the band was “not quitting anytime soon.”

“There wasn’t a lot of attention paid to our last record [2002’s “Good Morning Aztlan”], which we felt was very good,” Mr. Berlin says. “This time we wanted to do something with a little bigger ambition and get a bit more attention.”

Without sounding grandiose, the guest performances delivered on “The Ride” do draw a bit of notice.

Tracks range from the indecipherable (Mr. Waits on “Kitate,” a mixture of Jamaican ska, Mexican mariachi and New Orleans funeral dirge) to the eloquent “Someday”(showcasing Miss Staples’ gospel brilliance) to the incendiary Latin polyrhythm of “Ya Se Va” (featuring Mr. Blades) and do not disappoint.

Nor does Mr. Womack’s heavy-duty blaxploitation soundtrack soul “Across 110th Street” — which, when fused with the Lobos’ “Wicked Rain” (from their ‘92 album, “Kiko”), serves up a welcome concoction.

Elsewhere on “The Ride,” Mr. Costello’s vocals on the Lobos-penned “Matter of Time” evoke alt-country pioneer Gram Parsons’ fractured swoon, while Greg Leisz’s pedal steel guitar and Mr. Hudson’s keyboards provide haunting counterpoint.

Lobos acknowledges the difficulty of translating the magic conjured in the recording studio to their live show without the album’s guest stars on tour. But they say it makes the band members all the more determined to prove they’re relevant and still firing on all cylinders.

“It’s almost like a crusade on our part,” Mr. Perez says, stressing that while the group has “accomplished a lot as a band,” it still needs to “let people know who we are.”

Part of that determination stems from the collective realization that the Lobos almost didn’t make it to their 30th anniversary. “The Ride,” in fact, almost came to a screeching halt when founding member and guitarist Cesar Rosas’ wife, Sandra Ann Rosas, was kidnapped and murdered by her half-brother in 1999.

“It’s been a long healing process; its something we’re still feeling to this day,” Mr. Perez says of Mrs. Rosas’ death. “It won’t ever go away, but we know what we have to do.”

Drawing together in the wake of such a tragedy has not only strengthened the band, but reinforced the Lobos’ original mission: making great music, shattering stereotypes and cementing lasting friendships.

“At the end of the day,” Mr. Berlin says, “we’re all in it for each other.”

Mr. Perez puts it another way: “We’ve got the coolest job in the world. Who else gets to travel around the world with their best friends and play music?”

WHO: Los Lobos

WHERE: 9:30 Club, 815 V St. NW

WHEN: 7:30 tonight

TICKETS: $25

PHONE: 202/432-SEAT

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