For nearly 40 years San Jose's Los Tigres del Norte have been hailed as standard-bearers for Spanish-speaking immigrants in this country, based on their storytelling lyrics and offstage politics. Sunday night at the D.C. Armory, they confirmed that status while showing they remain a dance band, too. Packing 31 songs into two hours, this five-piece unit kept couples dancing with a set that emphasized speedy norteno, a genre that meshes ranchera-style country music with polka and pop.

Performing in beaded western outfits on a multi-level stage with neon-lighted steps, Los Tigres delivered a modern arena presentation, but one that incorporated more traditional touches. The combo opened with "Le Compre La Muerte a Mi Hijo," the first of many fast, bouncy numbers propelled by 54-year-old lead singer and accordionist Jorge Hernandez, and the booming bass and drums of the rhythm section. Despite the seemingly happy feel of the music, the song's lyrics in fact offer a sad tale of a parent blaming himself for his son's death because he gave him the Camaro that the young man died in. On this number and throughout the set, the sound system in the cavernous facility failed to capture the acoustic strumming of Luis Hernandez, the group's bajo sexto player.

Just when the norteno beat seemed to get wearying, the Tigers threw in ballads, rock-influenced cuts and a few boleros and waltzes, covering the gamut of the immigrant experience with songs about drug dealers, a man reunited with his son via a radio show, and someone who suffocated inside a truck that smuggled him across the border. The platinum-selling outfit also read notes handed up from the audience and after the concert posed for photos with fans until the wee hours.

-- Steve Kiviat