Los Lobos Kiko: 2 CDs, one re-release and one live version; live DVD performance of '92s Kiko
Even if you’re not a fan, Los Lobos’ re–release, re-envisioning and live performance of ‘92’s Kiko, one of their best loved albums, will make you a convert. On the eve of the bands’ 40th anniversary, Shout Factory has made a three-package set of the project along with a lyrics booklet.
The live performance of the album on the DVD is interspersed with comments from the band members about their history as well as the songs’. Throughout the piece, each member stresses how much of a family they feel the band is. Most of the group has known each other since high school. “We’re from a small community in L.A,” says Perez. “All our parents knew each other.”
The band started off playing traditional Mexican folk music, says bassist Conrad Lozano. They began to research and learn Mexican songs to impress neighbors, parents, and older folks of the community. In the early‘70s, there was a Chicano renaissance, and the band took advantage of that. Initially hired by a Mexican restaurant to play Mexican folk music, the band gradually underwent a change. When people started asking for Led Zeppelin, ’Stones, they figured might as well and began to bring in electric instruments, drums. Lorenzo says that when the band got fired for playing Hendrix stuff and Tex-Mex, they became a rock combo. The band liked the Blasters, and the Blasters liked what they saw in the fledgling band and invited them to open a show for them at the Whiskey. Los Lobos saxman Steve Berlin was with the Blasters at the time, but the band gradually weaned him away with regular invitations to play, and eventually he stayed. “That s where we evolved from a folk to a rock group,” Lorenzo says.
Kiko was their most ambitious and innovative project. The album was written as they went along, and the first takes on most songs stayed on. Guitarist /vocalist David Hidalgo compares it to what Sinatra used to do with Nelson Riddle’s orchestra when he recorded in the sixties: “get in and do it in one or two takes.”
"Kiko" is “something reverent and irreverent put together, might even be a state of mind, no reason to live by the rules,” says drummer/percussionist/guitarist Louis Perez. Hidalgo defines it as a cumbia, “built on an old fashioned Latin groove, like a record from the ‘30s.” The intro sounds like Duke Ellington playing three blind mice, but when he switches to accordion, it sounds like a Mexican version of Little Feat.
But this record was like no other Los Lobos project before or since. There was no central theme, no unifying style. The music is all over the place. “Dream in Blue” resembles a shimmery Stones mixed with Z Z Top, underscored by a big bottom end.
“Angels With Dirty Faces” is an atonal tribute to the homeless on L.A.’s 5th street, Hidalgo’s jangly edgy, psychedelic guitar like a dreamy Hendrix It was meant to show the dignity of the homeless, “the dignity we should bestow on them for being survivors,” Perez says.
The band enjoyed swirling styles together that seldom rubbed shoulders, like rockabilly mixed up with be-bop on “That Train Don’t Stop Here.” Cesar Rosas rocks the lead using all the frets on the neck while Hidalgo plays jazzy counterpoint. There are lots of fake endings before finally chugging to a halt.
Sounding like something Paul Thorn would have written, “When the Circus Comes To Town” is a love song, of sorts, a little softer instrumentally than most of the stuff presented here, but the lyrics are anything but. Hidalgo sings about a lost love who had the nerve to cross out his name carved in a tree with hers but left hers carved there and in his heart as well. He vows to make it right by “burning this whole place to the ground the day the circus comes to town.”
“Arizona Skies” is a true love song, a Tex-Mex treatment with the scenery in Arizona but the melody and rhythm straight from Mexico. There an interesting juxtaposition of styles with Hidalgo’s solos reminiscent of Ry Cooder and drummer Cougar Estrada’s solo, an homage to Tito Puente.
“Anything can happen, the motto was do what you want," engineer Tchad Blake says of the session. “Whiskey Trail” is a rocker that sounds like something Steve Earle would have come up with. Los Lobos goes Skynyrd with a 3 lead guitar attack with Perez aiding Hidalgo and Rosas , and Hidalgo’s son David Jr. sitting in on drums.
The set ends with “Rio de Tenampa, ” a big sound aided by the horns and reeds of the La Chilapena Brass band, very Tex-Mex, sounding like Doug Sahm without Augie Myers organ.
And that’s just the DVD. The re-mastered 20th Anniversary edition Kiko CD has 5 bonus cuts, three of them live. And then there’s the live CD, the aural accompaniment to the DVD.
It’s a great package, a time capsule as well as a restatement of vows that no matter what style they choose, Los Lobos will continue to be one of the most entertaining and innovative bands on the planet.
By Grant Britt