The movie soundtrack version of "La Bamba" is Los Lobos' one and only hit, but that redone oldie is the least of the band's many accomplishments. Singer-guitarists Cesar Rosas and David Hidalgo and drummer-lyricist Louie Perez have written some of the best rock-and-roll songs of the past 10 years, and they played many of those tunes Friday night at Lisner Auditorium with an all-too-rare blend of technical finesse and impatient passion.
Among the highlights were nine numbers from their new album, "The Neighborhood," one of the year's finest efforts, and they translated the new songs into one of the year's finest concerts. Some of the new material is raucous garage-rock, and Los Lobos played it with a blaring, bluesy stomp. They had no trouble, though, shifting gears for the traditional Mexican folk numbers, as Rosas and Hidalgo exchanged their electric guitars for fiddle, button accordion and bajo sexto. For the first encore, Los Lobos brought out the Dirty Dozen Brass Band (who had played a wonderful opening set) for a 14-piece big-band version of a Mexican cumbia.
By the final encore, Los Lobos still hadn't played "La Bamba," but Rosas's goatee twitched mischievously as he announced that the last song would be "an old one that everyone should know." Hidalgo then hit a quick flash of blues notes, and the band launched into "Crossroads," playing it harder, faster and cleaner than the Cream did, but with the same desperation that marked Robert Johnson's original version. Los Lobos never did get around to "La Bamba."