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Colossal Wolves

[whitespace] Los Lobos roars into Fuel for benefit concert

By Nicky Baxter

AT SHORELINE a few months ago, Los Lobos opened for Santana. Although Los Lobos didn't quite manage to steal Santana's thunder, it was plain that this was far from just another band from East L. A. The SRO audience whooped and hollered practically at every guitar-fueled tune, but when came time for the capper--"La Bamba"--the crowd did not recognize it initially. Rather than taking the tune at the usual lightning pace, Los Lobos turned the song into an ineffably beautiful ballad. At the song's conclusion, the crowd leapt to its feet to applaud the new, revamped Ritchie Valens number.

Ironically, in the aftermath of the number's initial release in 1987, Los Lobos' sterling and inarguably sincere remodeling of Valens' signature tune wound up pigeonholing the unit for some time to come. When the smoke cleared, this singularly idiosyncratic band was caught between Valens' wholesome pop and the tough, sinewy sound for which it had come to be known. By 1992, the year that the superlative Kiko (Slash) was released, lead vocalist/guitarist David Hidalgo was grumbling that he and the rest of the Wolves--Cesar Rosas, Conrad Lozano, Louie Peréz and Steve Berlin--were still feeling the pressure to come up with "La Bamba" Mach II.

Kiko was not so much a rediscovery of identity as it was a bold re-assertion of the unit's identity. Though not a concept album in the traditional sense, Kiko sounded seamless, whole. Like photographs of the band members inside the CD sleeve, the music was slightly askew, dreamlike. No surprise there: over the course of half a dozen recordings Peréz and Hidalgo, the group's primary songwriters, had demonstrated their adeptness at creating complex yet compelling music. Released two years later, Colossal Head was more accessible. There was the brooding rock of "Revolution"; the romanticism of "Mas y Mas" and "Maricela. Like much of this recording, the message of "Revolution" is one of weary acceptance. The tumultuous battles of the 1960s and early '70s have been compromised by complacency and greed--and the music both rages against the defeat while honoring the struggle for social change.

As great as Los Lobos the band is, what really sets it apart from the pack is its commitment to community. Over the decades, the group has performed at countless benefits for a variety of causes. Hence it comes as no surprise that the band rolls into Fuel in San Jose to play a benefit for the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and Burnett Middle School.

Since its inception a year ago, Fuel has also done more than its share of good works, while booking quality acts. Everyone from soul divas N'Dea Davenport and Ledisi to such African/Latin greats such as Cubanismo and percussion great John Santos have performed at the intimate nightspot. Los Lobos' appearance, is, however, a major coup for the Fuel. Dancing space will be at a premium, so our advice is get to Fuel early and be prepared for a world-class show.

Los Lobos plays Sunday (Dec. 6) at 5pm at Fuel, 44 Almaden Ave., San Jose. Tickets are $40. (408/295-7374)

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From the December 3-9, 1998 issue of Metro.

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