On Friday night, the Grammy Award-winning Mexican-American band Los Lobos graced the Performing Arts Center’s (PAC) stage, alongside the animated dance troupe Ballet Folklorico Mexicano. Excited parents shuffled to and from the bar, yawning kids in one hand, cups of Corona in the other.
People had been waiting for this, and for good reason. The curtains were drawn and at once, air that felt stiff suddenly moisturized — Los Lobos carried the crowd at ease as the longtime friends started their set off to the side, lit by changing green screen backdrops.
Formed in 1973, the band sprouted from a few borrowed recorders and after-school free-form jazz sessions at vocalist David Hidalgo’s house. They were in high school in East Los Angeles at the time. As the band began to expand and become what it is today, they started to experiment with genres, dipping into the roots of its traditional Mexican heritages, as well as the influence from norteño bands and other Tex-Mex sounds.
Now upwards of 60 years old, it’s clear the men have known each other for years — they were calm and modest in their performance, despite the booming riffs of flamenco-influenced guitar and thunderous applause.
The audience was appreciative and active, especially in watching the Ballet Folklorico Mexicano dancers, who performed intermittently throughout Los Lobos’ set. In chromatically dazzling costumes, the performers certainly colored the night — the dancing not only followed the music but seemed to take the place of a narrative.
The dancing was coy and romantic, and Los Lobos’ performance was just as sincere. Though the stage was massive, the band made it feel smaller. Even before the sea of audience members, Los Lobos’ presence felt more like a few dudes joshing around, tipsy on friendship and the simplicity of it all.
Tonally, Los Lobos sounded very much in tandem; they rose and fell together, a unified front of beefy, head-bobbing men.
And in the spirit of unification, the performances also focused a great deal on partnership. The dancers articulated expressions of adornment and passion, romantic pursuit and mirth. The performances also seemed to express a few surprising representations of femininity, gender roles and power. Unlike many other traditional roots of dance, the women seem to lead — so much so, actually, that their male partners would more often be on the floor, 360 degree jump-squatting in perplexing fashions, sometimes even following their female partners around like puppies, teeth glued to their decorated handkerchiefs.
The order of songs oscillated between quick-paced, almost jesting tunes and loving ballads of affection for the “lovely ladies in the audience.” They also played a few songs from their first album.
Vocalist and guitarist Cesar Rosas seemed to lead the show in terms of commentary — Los Lobos very much communicated with the audience, making jokes, diffusing technical difficulties and unintentional silences.
The latter half of the show more so illuminated the performances; the vignette-like performances grew in intricacy as the night went on. By the end, the backdrops mimicked the grandiose empires of ancient Native villages and the costumes, more and more clad, followed suit.
Some of the scenes were so authentic, they felt like an almost-true-to-life return to primal instinct.
By the final few songs, exuberant couples got up from their seats and shimmied over to the spacious margins of the PAC, their arms and legs snaking around each other, becoming wavy figures in the dimmed light.
The crowd stayed put in their applause as the night set and that of Los Lobos’ came to an end.