For many years, the hottest ticket in town in San Francisco for the first weekend in December has been the annual Los Lobos Fillmore shows. Now legendary amongst Lobos fans, the shows are a get together where people can celebrate this most under rated and hard working of rock bands.
Your reviewer, an 18 year veteran of these events, has seen many a memorable evening. Back in the day, there was both a Friday and Saturday show, often with different support. Past guests have included Calexico, Dave Alvin and David Lindley.
The last couple of years have seen a single show with LL performing two extended sets, which was the case this year - a potential sensory delight.
The Fillmore is the closest thing to musical history in San Francisco, and it is always a treat to arrive early and view the poster room, replete with posters from the venue's past. Walls are covered with posters from the 60's through to the present day, and including just about every conceivable artist from the Dead, Byrds, Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane et al...Taking a look around the audience, it's easy to believe they were present then as well...
The band eventually took the stage through a veritable fog of pot smoke, and from the opening notes of "Will the Wolf Survive?" to the final extended cover of the Grateful Dead's "Bertha", they gave a near flawless performance, laced with little played gems from their back catalogue, as well as a few well chosen covers.
For anyone familiar with LL by way of the hit single La Bamba, it is worth stressing what a multi-faceted band they are, with live performances ranging from traditional acoustic Mexican music through to Ritchie Valens covers and onward into blues laced rock. This show rocked. After all, the core of the band, guitarists Cesar Rosas, David Hidalgo and Louie Perez, along with bass player Conrad Lozano have been together 43 years; newcomer Steve Berlin on sax and keyboard, a mere 32. Touring drummer Bugs Gonzales is probably a couple of generations younger...
Mostly Hidalgo gets the plaudits for his searing lead guitar work, followed closely by Rosas, who in any other band would be the star guitarist. Perez splits his time between drums and guitar, specialising in the jarana, a small Mexican acoustic guitar, whilst Berlin contributes jazz laced sax and keyboard. The heartbeat of the band is the beaming Conrad Lozano, surely the happiest bass player around, pounding his Fender bass. At the end of each set he looks down at his fingers as if to say "how much longer can I do this for?"
By the end of the night, the audience have heard two 1.5 hour sets of intense, focused
playing. The Fillmore shows give the band an opportunity to stretch out and escape the shorter format festival sets; they can indulge in jam sessions and show off a bit. The audience love it of course, and that's why the Fillmore shows are special.
Maybe it was a combination of the pot smoke and tincture, but this was probably the best ever...but then again, I say that every year...