MINNEAPOLIS — David Hidalgo and Louie Perez don’t do this very often. The chief songwriters of Los Lobos have performed only 22 shows as a duo. Yet, on Friday, they will play their third duo gig in Minneapolis.
What’s the love affair between the musicians from East Los Angeles and the Mill City?
“Could it be the Nordic connection?” Perez asked.
“My grandfather is Swedish,” Hidalgo deadpanned in a joint interview. He was probably joking.
“It’s been great since the very beginning,” Perez picked up. “The first show Los Lobos did was in the 7th Street Entry. It held about 56 people, and we played with Soul Asylum.”
“It was our first tour away from California,” continued Hidalgo. “For some reason, we connected.”
The previous Hidalgo-Perez duo performances in Minneapolis were special appearances — as an opening act for Leo Kottke’s annual post-Thanksgiving show in ‘08 and at the 20th-anniversary party for Willie’s Guitars shop in ‘09. This time, Hidalgo and Perez — or Dos Lobos for short — will headline their own show.
What can fans expect?
“Fire. Girls,” said the dry-witted Perez.
“We have a couple of musicians playing with us,” Hidalgo said. “It’ll be songs from our last 40 years. Songs from Los Lobos, Latin Playboys (a 1990s side project) and songs from these demos we did 20 years ago that never surfaced until recently.”
“The whole idea is to celebrate the songwriting thing,” Perez said. “It’s not so much about musicianship. The songs take the center stage.”
In the Grammy-winning Los Lobos, Hidalgo shares frontman duties with Cesar Rosas while Perez plays a supporting role on drums or acoustic guitar. In conversation, however, the talkative, animated Perez, 58, seems like the leader whereas Hidalgo, 57, is shy and soft-spoken, belying the formidable force he provides with his voice and guitar onstage.
The duo has booked three Midwest shows this month and eight on the West Coast in January. Meanwhile, Los Lobos — arguably the United States’ best all-around roots band, embracing everything from blues to boleros — continues to tour intermittently.
This year, Hidalgo and Perez put out an album of old demos, “The Long Goodbye.” Written in 1989-90, the tunes mostly didn’t fit the two Los Lobos albums from that era, “The Neighborhood” and “Kiko.” The tapes sat in their engineer’s closet until Dos Lobos decided to revisit them last year.
Hidalgo and Perez met in the back row of art class in high school.
“We had these easel desks and you could put the top up and kind of hide behind it and talk and not do your work, which we were famous for,” recalled Perez, who, ironically, is now an exhibited sculptor and painter. “We just started talking about music and we became friends. Our taste was off the beaten path. Zappa and Beefheart, Fairport Convention, early Ry Cooder, Leo Kottke. It was different from what most of the kids were listening to. We were part of a group of outsider kids, hippie kids who were making fun of the status quo.”
After graduating from high school, they began writing songs together but put that activity on hold for 10 years while they “explored our own culture” — that is, all kinds of Mexican music, as a wedding and party band. They took up songwriting in earnest in 1983 when Los Lobos signed with Slash/Warner Bros. But because the ever-popular band tours so much, Hidalgo and Perez haven’t set aside time for songwriting since they rented a room behind a bookstore for 1992’s “Kiko.”
“Most of the songs we’ve written are a result of conversations that David and I have had,” said Perez, who has never had a day job besides music.
He thinks Hidalgo brings “soundscapes” to the writing process. “Because when I listen to a CD he passes to me, it’s like Christmas,” lyricist Perez said. “He has these pieces of music, and I start to hear and imagine things so that it becomes populated with people and characters and stories that just come out of listening.”
“I like what he hears in the music,” Hidalgo said of Perez. “It’s always a surprise.”
“It’s just trust,” Perez continued. “We’ve been doing it so long.”