Los Lobos, Mariachi Luna Llena Miller Outdoor Theatre May 3, 2015
"East Los." Those were the words written across the image of the Dia de Los Muertos calavera that served as the backdrop to Sunday night's show at Miller Outdoor Theatre. The rest of the name wasn't necessary, we already knew it referred to the storied and magical land east of the L.A. river, home of one of the greatest treasures the rock & roll gods have ever and will ever bestow on this world: Los Lobos.
For more than 40 years, this band has been rocking out and paying homage to their heritage, both as Mexican-Americans and rock & roll legends, playing loud and proud all over the world. From movie soundtracks to the White House, major music festivals and beyond, Los Lobos have provided a rousing heartbeat for music fans young, old and in between.
Sunday's show was dedicated to La Batalla de Puebla, a battle in the year 1862 in which the outnumbered and outclassed Mexican Army held back the invading French battalion, a day we know today as Cinco de Mayo. General Ignacio Zaragoza, who was born in Presidio La Bahia (present-day Goliad, Texas), led the defense of the Mexican forces that day.
And so the day is remembered every year with traditional music, food and dance, which is something Los Lobos are more that happy and willing to comply. Their band began partly with the intention to play traditional music for their mothers back in East L.A. From huastecas to racheras and boleros, the band became experts in traditional Mexican music and have never stopped.
This was the first time Los Lobos have ever played Miller Outdoor, which is fresh off an extensive renovation and looks and sounds as awesome as ever. The band opened with "La Pistola y El Corazón." the title track to their 1988 album. This was followed by the classic conjunto song "Los Ojos de Pancha" made famous by Los Alegres de Terán.
"You guys are awfully quiet, Houston!", said Cesar Rosas as he looked through his trademark dark glasses into the crowd. "Let's get this party started and rock & roll!"
The show was expertly balanced, loud and hard when required, as well as nice and smooth at the right moments. Hearing Rosas sing the bolero "Sabor a Mi" is just about the most perfect tribute to love that has ever existed.
Tracks from the soundtrack to La Bamba were big hits of the night, with the title track rocking loud and "Come On, Let's Go" causing many to jump out of their seats and dance. Covers of the Temptations' "Papa Was a Rolling Stone" and Santana's "Oye Como Va" were equally met with praise. My favorite track of the night was the chicano anthem "Yo Soy Mexico-Americano," which always fills me with pride.
"How about that mariachi who opened the show?! Give it up to them!" declared Rosas near the end of the show. Yes, indeed, the opening act of the night was absolutely spectacular. Mariachi Luna Llena from Rice University began the night with a powerful set of traditional Mexican music, sung with mucho corazón.
The group began with versions of "La Bikina," "Malagueña" and "Los Laureles" that made me do "gritos" at the top of my lungs. They even included a bit of beat-boxing and break dance during "El Aventurero" that was a fun, modern and comical twist to the Antonio Aguilar classic. It is supremely inspiring to see young college kids so involved and inspired by traditional Mexican music.
So there I sat, on the hill in front of the theatre, enjoying the music, a Shiner Prickly Pear cerveza, and a dinner of fried chicken and carnitas de puerco, surrounded by my amigos, enjoying the music and culture that runs through my blood. All the while thinking...
¡Que Viva Mexico!
Personal Bias: Como México, no hay dos. Ditto for Los Lobos.
The Crowd: Older chicanos and Baby Boomers who grew up with real rock & roll music, as well as younger music lovers.
Overheard In the Crowd: "Mas y mas!" -- both a request for the song, which was ultimately performed as the encore, and a wish that the night would never end because the band is just that good!
Random Notebook Dump: It was a perfectly pleasant evening at the renovated Miller Outdoor Theatre, cool but not cold, and no mosquitos at all. Do yourself a favor and pack a picnic and head out to the hill sometime this spring before it gets too unbearably hot.
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