I’ve seen Los Lobos play a few times, each time as an opener—once for Steve Earle at Red Butte, once for Alejandro Escovedo at Deer Valley. And it always seemed to me that their role as an opening act was grossly unfair, both because the dues they’ve paid as musicians and because they’re just really, really good—but unfortunately, neither of those things guarantee commercial success and that’s what gets you a headlining tour at Red Butte or Deer Valley.
This week the boys are back in town to open for yet another band—Tedeschi Trucks, tonight at Red Butte—but in a a stroke of luck (and good booking) almost too good to be true, they played an intimate two-set gig at Salt Lake’s The State Room on Saturday night.
The band took the stage all wearing all black—some of them wearing sunglasses that stayed on through the whole set. “We’d like to thank the Red Iguana for the food,” said lead singer David Hidalgo to cheers from the crowd, who obviously love mole, before the band settled into the first set. Within a few bars of “Short Side of Nothing” I was surrounded by at least three men in Los Lobos tee shirts and twice as many dancing women. At one point, there was a couple salsa dancing—you won’t see that at The State Room every night.
The beautiful mystery of Los Lobos is that they are equally as good singing songs in Spanish as they are covering Buddy Holly. They effortlessly blend genres from Mexican norteño, to heavy blues, to soul to covers—something I gladly attribute to the variety of sounds coming from the stage. Steve Berlin’s sax really makes a difference in the overall feel of each song it’s featured— maracas and an accordion and more were played when the song called for it. And, during the set break, a flute player arrived at the venue in a Lyft. It was Kofi Burbridge, of Tedeschi Trucks, and the addition of his instrument added layers to the sound during the second half of the show. Rock and roll flute. Who knew? (Note: Jethro Tull is not an acceptable answer.)
And they just played. And it occurred to me, as I listened to their single-song encore of “Cinnamon Girl,” that it had been a long time since I’d seen a show at which the music hit me right in the chest and caught my breath, the way that music is supposed to be felt. The way all of us who see live music want to feel at every show. It was a joyous, communal and face-melting show. And they sure played like headliners.