How the wolf survives

Jun 29, 2005 at 12:00 am

Last year Los Lobos released their 11th album, The Ride. Besides a cover shot that features the band strolling through the barren desert — which would make the Minutemen leap out of their folding chairs — it also sports a Cesar Rosas collaboration with Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter. This year, we also have Los Lobos' Live at the Fillmore album (and DVD) with Rick Griffin-styled cover art of a winged taco flying through a burning ring of fire. Could this self-proclaimed "band from East L.A. that plays Mexican music too damned fast" be the latest viable inheritor of disenfranchised Deadheads? Those who've nowhere to go since Phish ran aground? Uhhh, what's the Latin word for "Of course not, you soaked-in-patchouli foolbot."

Los Lobos just celebrated their 30th year in this business of show and marked the occasion in high style. San Francisco shout-outs are just a small part of the expansive eclecticism that's made Los Lobos the greatest band on earth to its die-hard followers, and a headscratcher to people whose recognition begins and ends with "La Bamba." This year they've done everything from a Simpsons musical cameo to a Saturday morning cartoon theme (Handy Manny) and a Sublime tribute album. And on Live at the Fillmore, they impressively jump from punk to blues to neo-psychedelia to Tex-Mex to experimental pop to R&B, all with a fury that bands a fraction of their age can't top.

"I guess that's been our mission in life, to confuse people," says guitarist-songwriter Louie Perez, laughing. "Over the years, people have struggled to attach a label to us and the sticky back just doesn't take. 'La Bamba' wasn't really us. We took all the attention we had from having a major hit song and put the attention on Mexican music with La Pistola y el Corazón. A lot of journalists were saying that we were committing commercial suicide. And we probably did. But the fact that it made this music available in parts of the world that never heard it before was really cool."

Maybe the reason it's taken so long to release a live album (Live at the Fillmore is the band's first) is that the band's fans have been regularly making bootlegs with tapes culled directly from the soundboard. Boots with the band's blessing, of course, just like, errr, you-know-who.

"Record companies have been making a fuss about that stuff for far too long," Perez says. "Record companies are fine but they just want to hang on to this rusty machine that doesn't work anymore. What was all that fuss about shutting down Napster? Now you can go to 7-11 and buy a prepaid Napster card right next to your phone card. The people who call it stealing just come off as kind of ungrateful."

Hey, he said it, not us.


Both Los Lobos (8 p.m.) and G-Love (5:30 p.m.) appear Friday, July 1, at TasteFest (New Center area on West Grand Boulevard between Woodward Avenue and the Lodge Freeway, Detroit; 313-927-3115). They're on the Main stage in the Fisher Building parking lot.

Serene Dominic is a freelance writer. Send comments to [email protected]