I recently saw Los Lobos live in concert for the fifth time. At the second concert, I was given the opportunity to meet the band. As I recall, I didn't embarrass myself too badly when I stumbled my way around asking for autographs on a t-shirt. Had I been the woman that I am now I would have handled the meeting differently. I would have made sure to intelligently articulate everything I appreciate and love about their musicianship and commitment to the music of their culture, their longevity, their brotherhood...all of it. But that is neither here nor there. The fifth time, this time, is my all-time favorite and here's why:
I first heard of Los Lobos about 15 years ago when a friend from New Mexico, having learned of my love for latino rhythms turned me on to them. I bought their first album Just Another Band from East LA on iTunes and was hooked from then on. I'm compelled here to point out that although I grew up in a neighborhood that had a large Spanish speaking population, AND I worked with many Spanish speaking friends while living in Orlando, my grasp on the language is painfully and embarrassingly lacking. When I listen to one of the many traditional Mexican songs sung by Cesar Rosas or David Hildago I can decipher very few words and phrases: love, beauty, tequila, more and more, gun and of course, wolf. Nevertheless, I can feel it so deep in my heart and soul that nothing else matters in that moment. I can be totally absorbed in the band’s immense catalog of traditional Mexican folk with great satisfaction. However, if you know this band you know their bottomless repertoire overflows with incredible, original rock and roll, blues, funk, jazz, rockabilly, swing and soul. So there’s that. But wait, there’s more. The powerful, soulful, streetwise lyrical content of Louie Perez and David Hildago’s originals are nothing less than captivating; telling stories about raunchy good times and heartfelt odes of love and survival, community, family, hope and connection to higher power.
This latter aspect is a good lens in which to view my recent experience because I have no conflict within myself when I refer to these players as gods and I’ve always believed that a healthy psyche includes some form of communion with that which causes transcendence of the self. Attending a Lobos concert with this perspective and level of expectation pretty much guarantees at the very least, a good time; at the most, a peak experience.
About four days before the concert, I'm driving home late from a gig, keeping myself alert by blasting the Los Lobos. A beautiful live version of a gospel ballad called Tears of God pours out and fills the worried spaces of my mind with a golden, liquid love. I put the track on repeat and listen all the way home. The next day, I learn the chord progression and start memorizing the lyrics. The song has a clear Catholic bent but not one that judges or condemns; only comforts. So many of their songs affect me quite deeply.
On the morning of the concert I can barely contain my anticipation. My partner Michael, amused at my pilgrim's approach, goes along with a plan to stop in Manchester for some to-go Mexican food; eating half at the restaurant and saving the rest for the ride home. I know that I will be extremely hungry after the show.
We arrived at the Cohoes Music Hall an hour before the concert was to begin. It’s a Sunday afternoon and the streets are deserted. We laugh and joke that Los Lobos are probably wondering where the hell they are. Soon more people begin arriving and I catch myself assessing; trying to guess who will dance out loud and who will sit; hard to tell sometimes.
Once inside, we run into friends I haven’t seen since the last time Los Lobos came to Northeast. We chat about music and such. When it’s time to find our seats, we make our way to the orchestra section. I’m not ashamed to say I have a standard when it comes to attending live music events. And if it’s Los Lobos, I'm up front. Period.
The opening act are a high energy group of young men who have mastered a particular groove and play it over and over under the guise of different song titles. It gets old quickly but hey, they’re having fun and I’m happy for them. I’m just feeling ever so slightly impatient. As they’re playing, I’m watching the side stage door. I catch a glimpse of bass player Conrad Lozano and drummer, Bugs Gonzalez stepping off the elevator and then disappearing backstage. Just knowing the band is in the building cranks my anticipation up another notch.
When Los Lobos, those sages of saucy groove, finally walked onto the stage and picked up their instruments, I stood up and did not sit down again until I was in the car going home. David Hildago greets the audience and asks, “Where are we? Have we been here before? When?” I tilted my head back to laugh but I howled as loud as I could instead! My inner wolf; finally set free to just be with the music and dance.
The absolute joy of being in my body is never as visceral as when I am dancing to rhythmically superior music. That alone is immensely satisfying. But here’s how it went:
Soaring, soulful vocals, grungy riffs, badass, driving, dynamic tempos, brilliant songwriting. They did not play Tears of God but I wasn’t disappointed. I danced about twenty feet from stage left for the majority of the set. When they said goodnight and walked off the stage it was time to make noise for the encore. I propelled myself forward until my hands were on the stage. Again, I howled. When they came back out I stayed rooted in place. From this new perspective- I was looking directly up into David Hildago’s face. Our eyes met a few times; each time I felt a flash of deep energy. I looked toward the other band members. I made eye contact with each one (Sure, Cesar and Steve both wear dark shades but I felt it). Bugs Gonzolaz saw me; grinned and nodded from behind his symbols. I sang along and want to believe they heard me.
The experience peaked when as I was looking up, the blue and red stage lights were dazzling my eyes and Hildago moved into the space; eclipsing the lights with his formidable silhouette and nailing a harmony with Rosas. I heard myself say “WOW OH WOW!” my head bowed with primordial impulse. When I looked up again, I’m positive I saw the slightest grin on Hildago’s face as he met my eyes one last time.
When The Wolves left the stage for good and the lights came on. I heard my friends voice call my name from the balcony. I looked up, raised my arms and shouted “I have seen the face of God!” He laughed and nodded. He got it. I had been to church and communed with that which sets me free.
What is it that moves you to transcend your everyday fears and worries? When was the last time you danced with abandon? Who are your go to gods, heroes and heroines? Why?