Summer after summer, Los Lobos sees the same familiar faces at the Greek Theater. It is among the largest venues the band performs in on any given tour, and no audience knows the group’s 25-year history better. What makes this East Los Angeles quintet such a treasure is their ability to give each year’s set a different texture while retaining the historical bits that still turn on the crowd. And on Saturday, the did it once again without milking their lone hit, “La Bamba.”
This year’s effort was sharp and restrained compared with last year’s alternately meandering and biting concert. In 1998 they were label-shopping; this time out, they were coming off having sold some 100,000 copies of “This Time,” their first album for Disney’s Hollywood Records after eight discs for Warners.
In the spirit of a pre-show presentation in which California Lt. Governor Cruz Bustamante celebrated the group’s quarter of a century of making music that blends conjunto and Zeppelin, Los Lobos stuck to tight versions of songs from throughout their history rather than loading up on “Time” tracks. Opening was languid yet pleasant. Soft material such as “When the Circus,” “Maricela” and the slightly peppier “Will the Wolf Survive” filled much of the first hour only to be interrupted by their usual four-song traditional Mexican set.
Those songs — and sadly it’s the same four songs they have used in every local show this decade — served as a springboard to a far rougher and rowdier stance. “Shakin, Shakin Shakes,” “Don’t Worry Baby” and, in the encore, the ferocious and innovative “Mas y Mas” highlighted a driving and forceful hour of music that found longtime drummer Louie Perez front and center on guitar more than ever.
Eclecticism has become a trademark of Lobos discs, yet the group stuck to the most mainstream numbers from “This Time.” The smooth grooves of the title track and “Oh Yeah” demonstrated Los Lobos’ unique way with a rhythm; as they get away from the mutant hip-hop of “Colossal Head,” they venture back into Latin cultures to dig up beats and meter possibilities that only the most adventurous composers (Arto Lindsay, for example) are exploring in a rock ‘n’ roll context.