Friday the 13th was blamed for a handful of occurrences at Los Lobos’ packed debut at Disney Concert Hall: An amp wouldn’t stop feeding back; a strap broke and an electric guitar crashed to the floor; and instruments that had sat idly were suddenly wildly out of tune. But East L.A.’s finest soldiered on through more than 2½ hours of music, spending a fair amount of time with the Mexican tunes of their youth and, unfortunately, only scraping the surface of their fine new album, “The Town and the City.”
Los Lobos used the beginning of each of their two sets in the career-covering concert to reach back to songs from their days as a backyard party band in the 1970s, playing the romantic bolero “Sabor a Mi” with a steamy guitar solo from Cesar Rosas and a fine version of the Bolivian tune “El Chuchipe.”
But it also meant time was spent with the unnecessary warhorse “Guantanamera” and a shaky “La Pistola y el Corazon.”
The band appeared rusty on a number of the tunes, and probably for good reason: They don’t need to perform this material at every show. This is the great American fusion rock band, rooted in more strains than anyone would care to count and highly capable of making a sound artistic statement with their own works rather than trying to fit some outdated description of a Mexican-American band. To isolate them, whether with folkloric music, Ritchie Valens covers or the intensely quiet material of their masterpiece “Kiko,” is to sell them and the audience short.
David Hidalgo, an astoundingly inventive guitarist, has given considerable shape to the new music. Rosas is a burner, a guitarist who excels when he builds up speed on the frets; his solos give the Los Lobos aud an adrenaline rush. Hidalgo is more painterly, capable of going dark and abstract just as easily as he can tackle a still life.
On “The Valley,” one of “The Town and the City’s” most striking songs, the Hidalgo sonic treatment was a unique highlight: He twisted the blues with a hollow guitar tone that pinpointed the intersection of Wes Montgomery and Jimi Hendrix. Perf was a gem.
“The Town and the City” (Mammoth/Hollywood) is a rugged and grounded work, a solid return to form for the band that’s both lively and solemn — a rock ‘n’ roll record with Latin American accents and a healthy dose of reflection in the lyrics. It ventures close to being a song cycle about the immigrant experience, from stealthily crossing the border to preserving traditions. As an artistic statement for Los Lobos, the concert would have been more intriguing had the band played the record all the way through.
Los Lobos continues to work with a three-guitar lineup on every song — in the early days, Louie Perez stuck to the drums before moving to various instruments — and the denseness of the sound didn’t always find a kind match in Disney Hall’s acoustics. Powerful rockers “The Road to Gila Bend,” a new tune, and “Don’t Worry Baby,” one of Rosas’ grittiest works, were exceptional in execution and, surprisingly, sound reproduction.
“Rita,” brimming with George Harrison overtones from late-period Beatles, from their overlooked album “The Ride,” also was a nice addition to the set; guest Greg Leisz played pedal steel on two numbers and helped a forgetful Hidalgo salvage the country two-step “Our Last Night.”