Los Lobos’ Live at the Fillmore

Just what do you expect a live DVD to accomplish? I want great sound, and lots of images of the band (or soloist). I personally like lots of closeups of the guitarist’s fingers on the fretboards. Most directors and camera operators don’t get this. Instead, if they show the guitarist’s hand it’s usually the strumming hand. They like drummers too, maybe it’s the muscularity of their arms, and the sweat flying off their brow! Drama. It’s all about drama. There is very little visual drama in Live at the Fillmore. Los Lobos do not move, not even their facial expressions. But this ninety minute concert film is filled with drama of the musical kind. These guys can flat out play!

David Hidalgo seems very comfortable (but quiet) in his role as front man, strapping on a variety of guitars, and singing half of the lead vocals. He’s quiet until he strums his guitar, anyway. Cesar Rosas hides behind shades and guitars as he stands stage right. Louie Perez, who for a long time served as the group’s drummer, has reverted to guitar, and he seems to be enjoying it — he’s the most animated of the three. Steve Berlin plays keyboards and saxophones, and balances things on the other side of the stage by also wearing shades. Conrad Lozano adds bass guitar, and stands between Rosas and Perez. The drummer’s stool is filled by Victor Bisetti and Ruben Estrada. Behind the band is a set of curtains on which hangs an icon of the Madonna. Lights. Audio. Action!

There essentially is no action. This is a concert DVD of a static show. The members of the band find their places and stay there. While they’re there, they play fiery blues, raunchy rock, joyous electric folk, and that hybrid neo-Ellington sound that characterized the Kiko & the Lavender Moon CD. These guys are musicians of the highest calibre.

Sometimes compared to The Band, and other times to the Allman Brothers Band, they are unlike either. Sure they capture a raw American sound, they have those primitive harmonies and their three guitarists play off of each other. They have these things in common with other great bands, but Los Lobos are very much themselves. As they celebrated their thirtieth anniversary, they searched their entire recorded legacy for the music included here: twenty-one songs from each aspect of their career. The Just Another Band From East LA years of Mexican folk songs right through the sophisticated compositions and rocking experimentation of The Ride are all represented. The often requested but seldom played “Viking” from 1999’s This Time is given an airing. “Tears of God,” “I Got Loaded,” “Shakin’ Shakin’ Shakes,” and the delightful “Kiko and the Lavender Moon” are just a few of the highlights.

There is a bonus short film included on the DVD, which is a cinema verite featurette which follows the band from their homes in LA to the concert hall. It includes backstage footage, candid interviews and is quite entertaining, and well worth a look. The menu is easy to navigate, having only a few choices: the concert, the short, the individual songs and audio setup. Very straightforward. But then the main intent of Live at the Fillmore is the music!

All three guitarists solo, each with his own distinctive style and tone. Berlin’s sax sizzles. Lozano and the drummers provide lots of room and solid support. Thirty years of playing together has welded these men into one big unit. Pedal steel superstar Robert Randolph joins them for the finale “Mas Y Mas” and he’s fine, but Los Lobos does just great with or without him. This extended version of the song leaves lots of room for virtuosity. Randolph’s and Hidalgo’s blistering guitar wars are complemented by an explosive drum solo by Bisetti and Estrada and superlative playing by all the others. This is what a music DVD should accomplish: it has to be about the music. Live at the Fillmore presents a band that doesn’t worry about glamour or glitz but simply stands on stage and plays its collective heart out. Awesome!

(Hollywood Records, 2004)

About David Kidney

David Kidney was born in the Marine Hospital on Staten Island in the middle of the last century, when the millenium seemed a very long way off. His family soon moved to Canada, because the air was fresher. He has written songs and stories, played guitar, painted, sculpted, and coached soccer and baseball. He edits and publishes the Rylander, the Ry Cooder Quarterly, which has subscribers around the world. He says life in the Great White North is grand. He lives in Dundas in the province of Ontario, with his wife.