Los Lobos is in a rut. For much of its 39-year existence, the band has been one of the most creative and powerful acts in rock. It was startling, consequently, to hear Los Lobos perform a largely unexceptional concert Thursday at Knuckleheads.
A pleasant but commonplace rendition of "Guantanamera" was typical of most of the set. While there's nothing wrong with being a good-time party band, the urgency and vitality that characterized Los Lobos' peak years was absent Thursday.
Only when the members of opening act Making Movies joined Los Lobos for a deliriously sloppy version of "Mas y Mas" did the headliner's set catch fire. Augmented by the whistle of a passing train and a rash of percussionists, a chaotic sense of danger seemed to motivate the members of the veteran band to step up their game lest the contributions of the young Kansas Citians show them up.
Steve Berlin, Los Lobos' saxophonist and keyboardist, produced Making Movies' forthcoming album. Berlin's influence and Making Movies' extensive schedule have transformed the band into one of the best ensembles in Kansas City. Its effervescent set sounded like a combination of Santana (Making Movies performed a tribute to the band last week at Knuckleheads) and indie rock favorites M83.
Maria the Mexican, another band from Kansas City, opened the evening with a lively set of Southwestern-tinged roots rock. Sisters Teresa and Maria Elena Cuevas dedicated a selection to their grandmother Teresa Cuevas. The mariachi pioneer was one of about 750 in attendance. A life-affirming version of "La Bamba" was one of three selections on which the Cuevas sisters sat in with Los Lobos.
Even in its somewhat diminished capacity, Los Lobos remains a potent live act. Perhaps rubbing shoulders with their likeminded colleagues in Kansas City will inspire the members of Los Lobos to reclaim the entirety of their former glory.
| Bill Brownlee, Special to The Star