That was one heck of a mariachi band they had playing after dinner at the sold-out Birchmere on Tuesday night. But that wasn't just any mariachi ensemble; it was Los Lobos, putting on an exhibition of their artistic evolution, from Mexican wedding band to Grammy-winning pop stars.
Tuesday's show was billed as an acoustic performance, but only the first set was performed acoustically, with Conrad Lozano playing bass on a baja sexto, Cesar Rosas and Louie Perez on acoustic guitar and David Hidalgo and Steve Berlin on a seemingly endless variety of instruments, including fiddle, button accordion and sax.
The tunes, some of them rancheras from the band's barrio beginnings 31 years ago, were sung mostly in Spanish and included numbers from the band's 1988 album "La Pistola y la Corazon."
The second set, with Lozano on electric bass, Berlin on keyboards and Hidalgo picking up the occasional electric guitar, showcased the seasoned veterans at their Tex-Mex rock-and-roll finest.
This is a band whose members have played in front of thousands of fans in vast arenas, so you'd expect a measure of coolness when it comes to playing a venue the size of the 500-seat Birchmere, but Tuesday they played as if at a backyard party for a record executive, trying to impress everyone and anyone with their contagious enthusiasm. For an encore they turned their first major hit, a cover of Ritchie Valens's "La Bamba," into an audience singalong, and then trotted out the hoary chestnut "Good Love" for a crowd-pleasing send-off.
It was almost too easy, but a lot of bands could use a fraction of the organic charisma Los Lobos has by the truckload.
-- Buzz McClain