ATLANTIC CITY, NJ—If you closed your eyes you heard a swinging, brilliantly performed, technically perfect set of songs that included “Set Me Free (Rosa Lee),” “I Walk Alone” and “Dream In Blue.” Open them, and the reality was that no matter how rollicking the tune being played, the players appeared bored.
Midway through a summer jaunt in support of Tin Can Trust (Shout! Factory), their first release of originals in more than four years, Los Lobos guitarists/vocalists David Hidalgo and Cesar Rosas barely moved; keyboard and sax guy Steve Berlin was, apparently, too cool to move; the rhythm section of Conrad Lozano and Cougar Estrada were practically invisible; and perpetually scowling multi-instrumentalist Louie Pérez appeared to be regretting whatever it was he ate earlier in the day.
A three-band bill of Los Lobos, Los Lonely Boys and Alejandro Escovedo was an inspired collision of talent linked by ethnicity and vaguely common musical ties. The reality of the evening, however, was that the excitement generated by the musicians on stage went in reverse order.
Making their debut in 2003 with the multi-chart, Grammy-winning single “Heaven,” and now touring in support of Rockpango, their fourth full-length release and the first on their own LonelyTone/Playing In Traffic Records, Los Lonely Boys are a rock/jam/Latino powerhouse consisting of brothers Henry Garza on guitar and vocals, bassist/vocalist JoJo Garza, and drummer Ringo Garza.
Second on the bill, the group’s funky seven-song set included muscular new tracks “American Idle,” “Believe,” “16 Monkeys,” “Fly Away” and “Love In My Veins,” and ended with an extended audience/band workout on the aforementioned “Heaven.”
The opening set this evening was from longtime music veteran/icon Alejandro Escovedo (The Nuns, Rank And File, True Believers, Sensitive Boys, Ronnie Lane). “I can take a punch, I can take a swing,” he sings on “Man Of The World,” the opening track from his 11th solo release, Big Station (Fantasy). His performance proved just that.
First act up in Atlantic City means that the seats, if you’re lucky, are maybe half full and the audience may (or may not) give you a good listen while they file in, sit down and wait for the band they paid to see.
Sensing this restlessness, Escovedo kicked his seven-song set off with one of his most well-known tunes, “Castanets,” followed by amazing versions of “Anchor,” “Can’t Make Me Run” and “Arizona”… and closed with a rousing version of Neil Young’s “Like A Hurricane” that featured an immobile, yet smokin’ guest solo from Los Lobos guitarist Hidalgo followed by a wild display of masterful string mangling and extended sonic feedback courtesy of the critically lauded, criminally underestimated 62-year-old roots rocker.