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Los Lonely Boys + Los Lobos

(22 Jul 2008: Saratoga Mountain Winery — Saratoga, CA)

It was only a matter of time before Texas’ Los Lonely Boys hooked up with East LA’s Los Lobos for what’s been dubbed the Brotherhood Tour. Los Lobos has been at it for decades, carving out a career as one of the most diverse bands in the popular music scene. Los Lonely Boys, a power trio equally comfortable with high-powered blues jams and melodic pop, burst onto the national scene more recently. But despite their disparate dates of inception, it appears that the time for these two Latino-influenced bands to join together for a co-headlining tour has arrived.


By all rights, Los Lobos should be the headliner. But Los Lonely Boys are selling more albums these days (including their recently released new record, Forgiven), so the young guns will close the show. It’s to Los Lobos’ credit that they’re okay with that. They’ve been around long enough to know that popularity can be a fickle thing, so take any interesting opportunity you can find and go with it. There’s few bands that can play everything from Mexican folk songs to rock classics with huge jams like Neil Young’s “Down by the River”, and everything in between. The band’s sound never goes out of style because it’s rooted in so many classic styles.


Los Lobos comes on and starts getting down to business, but there’s clearly an obstacle to overcome—the mellow Saratoga crowd remains seated. Even the stray audience members who want to get up and dance are hassled by those behind them, or by the ushers when they dance in the aisles. The recently remodeled venue has a nice layout, an intimate vibe, and great acoustics; but if you can’t dance, is it really a place for a rock ‘n’ roll show?


“C’mon Let’s Go”, the Richie Valens classic, is an infectious number that begs the listener to get up and move. Yet still the Saratoga crowd remains seated. One can’t help but start to wonder why the only Bay Area stop on this tour wasn’t booked at the Berkeley Greek Theater, where a person is more likely to get chastised for not dancing. It’s only 56 miles from Berkeley to Saratoga, but it feels worlds apart.


Lead guitarist David Hidalgo rips it up on his Telecaster during the next song, but it still doesn’t move the crowd to do more than applaud at the end. Rhythm guitarist Cesar Rosas takes the vocal on “Luz De Mi Vida”, a delicate love song that sounds great in the warm summer air. The energy increases with “The Neighborhood”, as the crowd starts clapping from the off and chimes in with Hidalgo when he sings “Thank you Lord for another day / Help my brother along his way / And please bring peace to the neighborhood.” The groovy tune is reminiscent of blues legend Willie Dixon’s “Wang Dang Doodle”, with a fat sax line from Steve Berlin that pumps the groove up even more. The band has a three-piece horn section on hand, enhancing the music throughout the set.


Rosas moves to a 12-string guitar and Hidalgo to accordion for a couple of Mexican folk-oriented numbers that get the crowd clapping and hooting. Even a few are up and dancing now. The band’s smash cover of Richie Valens’ “La Bamba” breaks through further, moving more people to dance. Hidalgo seizes the opportunity by imploring the mellow crowd, “C’mon, get up,” and then everyone finally does. Now it feels like a proper Los Lobos show. The band then seamlessly segues “La Bamba” into the Rascals classic “Good Lovin’”, lifting the energy even higher, before resolving back into “La Bamba” to close the set with a rousing flourish.


Los Lonely Boys hits the stage shortly thereafter with “Heart Won’t Tell a Lie”, the hard charging opening number from their new album. The song is a rocker in the Stevie Ray Vaughan/Jimi Hendrix mold and guitarist Henry Garza delivers scintillating guitar licks throughout while his brothers, bassist Jojo and drummer Ringo, lay down a mean groove. But the crowd has returned to its seats. It’s just one of those venues.


The band is undeterred as they steam into “Hollywood”, one of the catchiest numbers from their debut album. The song is perfect for a warm summer night and the crowd is into it, even if they won’t get off their butts. The trio builds up a big jam at the end, with Henry tearing up his Stratocaster again, as he does throughout the night. The guy is without doubt one of the hottest guitarists currently in the business.


Jojo takes the lead vocal on “Staying With Me”, a romantic number that seems popular with the ladies. The band could get away with playing similar lighter numbers all night, but what separates them from the pack is that they like to rock. Henry Garza is just too talented not to, and his six-string skills consistently propel the show.


“Dime Mi Amor” sends the show into a higher gear with a bluesy, Santana-like groove that has a hard rocking flavor. The trio uses the song as a springboard for a stellar jam—rather than cutting off at three and a half minutes as on the album, they build the song until it takes on a power that recalls Jimi Hendrix’ Band of Gypsys project. Jojo and Ringo lock into a monster groove and Henry shreds all over it in stunning fashion. It’s hard to question the band’s headlining worthiness now.


“Nobody Else” is another highlight. Henry’s catchy rhythmic chords and the band’s sweet vocal harmonies create a compelling sound, with the trio gelling into a groove that finally lifts some of the crowd up out of their seats. It’s the type of sweet romantic blues-rock that just compels couples to dance. Later, “Real Emotions” gets even more of the crowd up and dancing with a sound reminiscent of the Steve Miller Band’s “Abracadabra”, as well as some more Santana-style Latin rock flavor.


But it’s not until the set-closing “Heaven”—the band’s breakthrough hit—that the entire crowd is finally moved to get up and groove. The catchy tune gets everyone singing and dancing, leading one to wonder why everyone waited until the end of the show to remember they were at a rock concert. The band builds the song into another big jam that ends the show in triumphant fashion. There’s not much time left before the venue’s 10:30 pm curfew, so the band encores with a quick run through “Suppertime”, an acoustic number recalling Van Halen’s “Ice Cream Man”.


Whether the crowd’s sedate vibe had to do with the seated aspect of the show or the fact that neither of the ace lead guitarists sat in with the other is unknown. A David Hidalgo-Henry Garza jam would have been something to see. But what is clear is that there aren’t many double-bills on the road this summer that can match the high-quality tandem of the Brotherhood Tour.

Greg M. Schwartz has covered music and pop culture for PopMatters since 2006. He focuses on events coverage with a preference for guitar-driven rock 'n' roll, but has eclectic tastes for the golden age of sound that is the 21st century music scene. He has a soft spot for music with a socially conscious flavor and is also an award-winning investigative reporter. Follow him on Twitter at @gms111, where he's always looking for tips on new bands or under the radar news items.


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