Los Lobos is an American band. They are grown-ups. They know how to rock. And by the way, they can sing a ranchera that'll make you weep. Everything else is just so much dust on the low rider.
Friday night, after a spectacular set by Sergio Mendoza y la Orkesta, Tucson fans embraced Los Lobos like the old friends they are, and the band returned the favor, taking it down and letting the crowd carry songs themselves here and there. Although several songs came from the band's 2010 release, Tin Can Trust, they also performed favorites from as far back as the mid-1980s ("I Got Loaded" and "Shakin' Shakin' Shakes"), and two songs from the 1996 Colossal Head, "Maricela" and "Mas y Mas," were set highlights.
The set seemed designed to remind us of their range, emphasizing the roll side of the rock 'n' roll equation with bluesy riffs and surfy hooks, then shifting to the border-radio aesthetic of their omni-perfect "La Bamba" and their cumbias, including "Cumbia Raza" and "Chuco's Cumbia." The excitement peaked when Tucson trumpeters and La Orkesta members Javier Gamez, Michael Carbajal and Jon Villa sat in and stepped up with thrilling solo and ensemble fills.
It was a big, multigenerational Tucson house party, and if the show didn't quite sell out, a look at the bursting weekend calendar shows why. We were a little surprised, though, that Derechos Humanos and the ethnic-studies advocates missed it. They could use broader community support at this crucial time.
Pima County Supervisor Richard Elías was there, and so was Congressman Raul Grijalva. As we watched him chatting with folks in the bar line, it dawned on us how remarkable it was for him to be there—as remarkable as it would have been unremarkable before Jan. 8.
For all that, the most political statement of the night may have come from Mendoza when he invited the crowd to chant along with him, "Mexico! Mexico! Mexico!" It offered a moment to reflect on the culture we were sharing just then. Someone in the crowd yelled, "Come back!" and Mendoza responded with a laugh.
"We don't have to come back," he said. "We live here!"