Charles Ives meets Captain Beefheart

Can it really be true? Los Lobos is performing tomorrow at the Party in the Park…for free. Thank you, City of Rochester!

I remember spinning their first major-label full-length album – and I do mean "spinning," it was an LP – at WCVF in Fredonia in 1987. Folks at the station loved it. Others in the dorm weren’t so sure. “Is that an accordion?” one guy asked. This was, after all, the era of Bon Jovi and Whitney Houston. Even on college radio, you were more likely to hear stuff like The Cure and XTC. In that context, to me, the accordion sounded glorious. So did that bari!

Saxophonist Steve Berlin was asked recently to describe the band's sound. The question came with a list of styles including 50's rock, R & B, country and Latin. Steve agreed with that and added "a little bit of mid-60's British blues rock, and probably a dose of Captain Beefheart here and there, a little Charles Ives maybe."

I’ve seen Los Lobos a few times, when they opened for U2 at Silver Stadium, and once at UB, when they refused to play La Bamba. These days, they’re playing it. Here’s their set list from just a few days ago, when they played a show at the Marin County Fair in California. No Charles Ives, but they did cover Bob Marley, Traffic, Buddy Holly and the Grateful Dead.

The Neighborhood
I Walk Alone
One Time, One Night
Chuco’s Cumbia
This Time
Waiting In Vain
Short Side of Nothing
Maria Christina
Chains of Love
Dear Mr. Fantasy
That Train Don’t Stop here
Kiko and the Lavender Moon
Soy Mexico Americano
Los Ojos De Pancha
Cumbia Raza
Not Fade Away
Good Lovin’
La Bamba



Classics, all

Three tunes from their masterpiece, Kiko. And the title track from another great record, This Time. Actually, it spans their career, pretty much. Man, what a band! I don't think you'll find Ives reflected in their music in any obvious way, but maybe instead in their fascination with stretching standard pop music forms to encompass a greater range of expression, and in the honesty and directness with which they take on the Big Questions. Those latter qualities predominate in the newest material, which is much more straightforward than the atmospherical Froom productions. Like other artists of Los Lobos' age, they lately seem bewildered by our times. They sing often about their past as if in hope of finding a key to the present within those far away values and lost communities. It's something we all must seek and find. Anyway, what a great band!