Los Lobos rock Gruene Hall, head to Austin & Houston

Greg M. Schwartz [email protected]

East LA's legendary rockers Los Lobos tore it up at Gruene Hall last night, tipping their collective cap several times to San Antonio. It was a pleasure indeed to see one of the country's finest bands at one of the nation's most historic venues. The venue bills itself as Texas' oldest dance hall, having operated since 1878.

The room can't hold more than 300 people, making it one of the most intimate venues in which to see such a world-class act. With it's screen walls, you don't necessarily even need a ticket to sort of see the show from outside, where the music can be heard loud and clear. A number of folks watched the early part of the show in just such a manner.

Guitarist David Hidalgo introduced an early Richie Valens highlight by saying the band had recently played the 50th anniversary of the fateful Winter Dance Party that turned out to be Valens' last gig, before the untimely plane crash that took the lives of Valens, Buddy Holly and the Big Bopper (take the bus young musicians!) The band rocked out on “Ooh My Head” with a bluesy stomp that got the room shaking.

“How's that Fiesta?” asked guitarist Cesar Rosas shortly thereafter. “This goes out to all you people of San Antone. Everyone, Cumbia!” The band then launched into “Chuco's Cumbia,” a decidedly Latin flavored rocker with Rosas singing in Spanish. The dance party was in full motion at this point.

Rosas continued to star on “I Can't Understand,” a lament for being broken up with that featured a segue into “Papa Was a Rolling Stone,” with a psychedelic jam filled with wah-wah infused guitar. Hidalgo took the vocal lead on “Last Night,” a swinging rocker about getting loaded that was a clear fan favorite.

Saxophonist Steve Berlin was a force throughout the evening, with his jazzy notes spicing up both the rockers and the more Latin-oriented material to help give the band its rich sound.

A sentimental Mexican folk song was another highlight, with most of the room singing along on and waving hands back and forth. The tune also featured a tease of the Bobby “Blue” Bland/Grateful Dead classic, “Turn On Your Lovelight.” After a hot 90 minute set, the encore section featured some guests who weren't clearly identified but were alluded to as San Antonio locals, with Rosas dedicating the tune to “San Antone, Austin and Doug Sahm.”

He went on to note that back when the band was first getting their act together in East Los Angeles, there was a light bulb moment when they realized that most of the music they were into originated in South Texas. Rosas also informed the audience that Bob Dylan had once told him that the best time he ever had was hanging out with Doug Sahm in San Antone! Look for the Current to conduct further research on this matter soon. Dylan fans take note — Los Lobos' Hidalgo is all over the new Dylan album that comes out on Tuesday. Hidalgo is a superb guitarist, but his accordion work has also made him an in-demand session player.

The band ended the show with the obligatory “La Bamba,” getting the room dancing once more on the high energy Richie Valens cover that helped launch the band into national prominence in the late â??80s.

Fans who missed out on tix for the intimate Gruene show still have options, as Los Lobos heads to Austin's One World Theater tonight and to the Houston International Festival tomorrow. Viva Los Lobos!


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