Friday, September 10, 2010

John Hiatt & Los Lobos

On Sept 3 I was privileged to enjoy an evening with John Hiatt & "The Combo" - his touring band and the guys who recorded "The Open Road" with him earlier this year - and the indefatigable Los Lobos at the Regina Casino Show Lounge.

It was a wonderful concert as far as I was concerned.

My main reason for attending was to see John live for the first time since I became a near-rabid fan of his music in the '90's (and yes, I was a bit late to the dance). John and The Combo were all I had hoped for and more. The ten song set list they played included the requisite hits like "Thing Called Love", "Drive South" and "Slow Turning".

John was in fine voice, often treating us to extended gospel-infused vocal runs at song's end with wild swoops from his gravelly alto up to the heights of his falsetto and back again. The Combo was tight, spare and focused, but also able to leg it out with authority too. Perhaps no more so than on their masterful accompaniment of John's newest blues tour de force, "Like a Freight Train". I can honestly say I've never experienced such a stunningly well-played blues song before, and that includes a night in the presence of no less than B.B. King. King, had he been with us, would have smiled his trademark grin and clapped for joy. The boys did it RIGHT!

Exit John after a guitar soaked but still moving rendition of "Have a Little Faith in Me" - a new reading that won me over even as I missed the gospel choir of what is still the best version, as far as I'm concerned, of that classic Hiatt tune.

Enter Los Lobos.

Why I haven't been a constant fan of these guys is a mystery to me. I blame commercial radio for pummeling us all with Los Lobos' version of "La Bamba" in 1987. I left the band behind after that. It's a shame because I didn't know what I was missing. Well I'm making up for lost time now.

Their new CD - "Tin Can Trust" - is a fantastic album. I like every song on it and I'm starting to love a couple of them. Nearing the top of my list is their deft cover of The Grateful Dead's "East L.A. Fade Away". While it might be too easy to call Los Lobos East L.A.'s answer to The Grateful Dead, it is (and was at the concert) obvious that these two bands are linked by more than mere genre and influence. Call them the two best sides of the Southern California experience.

It is also no small feat that the four original high school buddies are still together, along with their add-on friend, Steve Berlin, who joined them for their highly acclaimed 1984 LP "How Will The Wolf Survive" - which has earned a spot on Rolling Stone's Top 500 Albums list. I own a copy that I picked up at a garage sale a couple of years ago for a toonie. That might explain some of the context for what I'll be ranting about in a minute. In any case Los Lobos has stood the test of time, weathered the ups and downs of the music biz and come out better, stronger and more creative for it. Such longevity is beyond rare in their world. When it happens magic does too.

I said before that the concert was wonderful "as far as I was concerned". My only problem was the crowd. They were almost to a person




Now I've been to dozens of shows in my life and I've seen shows where the audience wasn't into it - for good reason! The artists weren't into it either. But this is one of the few times, if not the only one, where the musicians were working their butts off and the crowd was either too old, too distracted (by WHAT I wonder) or too uneducated to know what they were missing. Maybe I should have been worried when the lady DJ from 105.9 FM took nearly 5 minutes to introduce John Hiatt. This is the man who recently won the "Lifetime Achievement Award for Songwiting" from the American Music Association. He shouldn't need an intro to anyone who can call themselves a music aficionado with any level of self respect.

I know Regina has recently sprung up on the music tour map after the Rolling Stones, AC/DC and Bon Jovi all had successful shows here, but if all we are going to be able to appreciate is the juggernauts of the corporate music biz because that's all we know - outside of a fairly well-rounded appreciation for country artists thanks to events like the Craven Country Jamboree - then our future entertainment landscape is going to get pretty bleak pretty fast.

Here's a tip - if you don't like, love or even know who the artist is that you're going to go see - DON'T GO! If you wanna be seen "stylin'" go to The Drink. Those of us who want to be entertained, want to be so in the presence of like-minded folks. We want the love in the room to be palpable. We want the artists to know their fans are with them. We want to be a part of something special.

John Hiatt & Los Lobos were very special in Regina on the 3rd of September, 2010. The audience was nothing special.

'Nuff Said!