By Diana Nollen/ Hoopla
IOWA CITY — All you need is a little humor to dance the Bamba — and Los Lobos to provide the beat.
The throng of thousands moved to the universal language of music on June 2, crammed into every nook and cranny around the intersection of Iowa Avenue and Dubuque Street for the Iowa Arts Festival main stage concert. Perfect weather surrounded the free event, and when it got a little chilly toward the end, some wild Tex-Mex salsa sounds cranked up the heat.
Los Lobos evolved from the East Los Angeles music scene nearly 40 years ago to blaze a trail in American Chicano music, with Latin rhythms firmly rooted in rock ‘n’ roll and R&B traditions. Sometimes the band sings in Spanish, other times in English. Either way, the lyrics were pretty hard to catch in Saturday’s outdoor concert, where they were buried by overamplified instrumentals.
Since I couldn’t catch the hooks and my Spanish is beyond rusty, I can’t toss out a bunch of titles from the show, but I can definitely say the band ignited a party. I’m pretty sure a particular crowd favorite was the straightforward rock ‘n’ roll of “I Walk Alone,” fueled by Cesar Rosas’ gritty vocals and blazing guitar.
I’m absolutely positive about the roar that went up when the band launched into its biggest hit, “La Bamba,” to close out the two-hour show. Everyone jumped to their feet and danced to a full-out version that tucked some “Good Lovin’” in the middle. Our singalong was a little pitiful, but spirited.
Everything about the concert got your blood pumping, from Steve Berlin’s funky baritone sax to all the red-hot guitar riffs and wild bass rides. All six musicians took turns tearing up the spotlight, proving just how masterful they are on whatever instrument they’re wrapped around. In a fun and gracious nod, the bandmates invited opening musicians Carrie Rodriguez and Luke Jacobs to add their fiddle and pedal steel guitar flair.
With every song being an extended version of what we’ve heard on the radio or Los Lobos albums, the entire concert felt spontaneous and free. And very, very special.
Rosas, who shares lead vocals with David Hidalgo, told the masses the band hasn’t played Iowa City since 1992, and drew lots of reminiscent aahs when he said he remembered playing at the Crow’s Nest the very first time they came to town. Let’s hope they don’t wait another 20 years to return.