Los Lobos didn’t waste time with stage banter at their concert Friday at The Criterion Theatre in Bar Harbor. Instead, the band from East Los Angeles performed an almost nonstop set of music, drawing from their nearly four decades of recorded material as well as performing a few covers of other artist’s songs.
The band – David Hidalgo and Louie Perez on guitars and vocals; Conrad Lozano, bass; Steve Berlin, saxophones and keyboard; and Bugs Gonzalez, drums – kicked off with a tune that clearly announced they were in town to rock and roll. A sixth member, guitarist and vocalist Cesar Rosas was not on stage Friday, and no explanation was given.
By their third song, “Evangeline,” the mood was firmly set. This up-tempo rocker from the band’s 1984 album “Will the Wolf Survive” was taken at a breakneck pace, with Hidalgo delivering blistering licks that illustrated why he deserves greater recognition as a guitarist. Throughout the night, he made a convincing case for his name to be mentioned alongside upper-echelon pickers like Eric Clapton and Carlos Santana.
Hildago and Perez formed Los Lobos in 1973 after meeting in high school. Rosas, Lozano and Gonzalez came on board a short time later. Berlin, who was playing saxophone with The Blasters, joined in 1983. Their long-term relationship transfers to the stage, where members easily segue from one song to the next guided by an opening riff or the briefest of consultation. That was the case Friday, with Hildago taking time to make one announcement.
Pausing mid-concert, Hildago told the audience it was 30 years to the day that the movie “La Bamba” was released. Los Lobos recorded many of the songs for the movie and soundtrack album, which went double platinum. The band’s version of the title track yielded the group their only number one hit.
“We’re going to do a tribute to Richie Valens,” Hidalgo said as the band launched into a medley of the late Chicano rocker’s songs that included “Come On Let’s Go” and “La Bamba.”
In response, the audience leaped to their feet, swaying in their seats and dancing in the aisles, setting off a dance party that would continue through the show. Valens recorded “La Bamba” in 1958, creating an early rock and roll classic from a Mexican folk song. Los Lobos captured the spirit of the original while making it sound fresh. The song came to a feedback-laden conclusion worthy of Jimi Hendrix.
The band came back for their encores but without Lozano. Instead, the bass player from the opening act walked on stage and strapped on Lozano’s bass.
“It’s his birthday today,” Hildago explained.
The bassist, who performed earlier with Portland musician Dominic Lavoie, signaled he was ready, and the band counted off a blues shuffle. The young man more than held his own; hitting all the stops perfectly and earning hugs from Lozano and Gonzalez and considerable applause as he left the stage. This was not a birthday he was going to forget.
With Lozano again on bass, the band ended with a medley that has become one of the go-to closers during this tour: Buddy Holly’s “Not Fade Away” and the Grateful Dead’s “Bertha.”
The Los Lobos concert was part of a welcome revival of nationally known musicians performing Downeast. Recent acts have included Kenny Wayne Sheperd and BeauSoleil. Robert Cray is scheduled to perform Oct. 3. Thanks to the Criterion staff for making this possible.