When you’re facing a major milestone, it doesn’t hurt to have some longtime friends help you out. Thus we opened our 40th anniversary taping season with the fifth appearance from ACL vets Los Lobos, also celebrating four decades of musical existence. With that much history to draw from, the East L.A. band roamed all over its long career, pulling from its 1983 coming out EP …And a Time to Dance all the way up to last year’s Disconnected Live in New York.
Settling into a similar format to that latter record, Los Lobos performed mostly unplugged, opening with “Yo Canto,” an original tune in the Mexican folk tradition driven by fleet-fingered requinto licks from David Hidalgo, whom Brian Bierig called “a mountain of a musician.” “El Cascabel,” “Saint Behind the Glass” and the fan favorite “La Pistola y el Corazón” kept the folk vibe going, before Conrad Lozano picked up his electric bass and drummer Enrique “Bugs” Gonzalez took the stage for “Malaqué.” The band recast guitarist Cesar Rosas’ sprightly rock & roll tune “Set Me Free (Rosa Lee)” with acoustic guitars, though keeping Steve Berlin’s sax riffage intact. Less traditional folk flavors flowed in after that, from the jazzy blues of “Tin Can Trust” and the widescreen epic “Little Things” to the groovy dance tune “Chuco’s Cumbia” and the lovely ballad “Tears of God.”
Electric guitars finally made an appearance in the atmospheric “Kiko and the Lavender Moon,” upping the muscle factor, even with a return to less rocking sounds with covers of Flaco Jimenez’s “Ay Te Dejo en San Antonio” (with a lyrical stumble that necessitated an immediate redo) and the traditional “Volver, Volver.” By the time we got to Rosas’ funky “Wicked Rain,” the street song thump of “Rio de Tenampa” (guest-starring the Grupo Fantasma horns) and the clattering rock of the set-ending “Mas y Mas,” Los Lobos was in full amplified flight.
Following a redo of “Tenampa,” the band brought the evening to a close with a volcanic “Don’t Worry Baby,” the best blues ‘n’ roll tune Stevie Ray Vaughan never wrote. With a set that covered the vast width and enormous breadth of its 40 year career, Los Lobos proved the perfect act to kick off ACL’s own anniversary celebration. And since we streamed the taping live as it went down, the whole world could join in the fun, prompting 54Moredoor to comment, “ACL you know how to throw a PARTY!”