Howling for the wolves
BEAVER CREEK ” Like a lot of political issues these days, the immigration debate has forced most Americans to choose a side ” support immigration or stand against it.
Hailing from East L.A., veteran Latin rockers Los Lobos take a less definitve look at immigration on their newest album, “The Town and the City,” due out Sept. 12. The 13-track disc chronicles an immigrant fugitive’s journey to America, telling of the experience on a more human level.
“In Los Angeles, in that moment the silly debate was happening, it was hard to avoid the subject. It just permeated the air,” said Steve Berlin, who plays saxophone, percussion, flute, midisax, harmonica and melodica. “Each song is a fraction part of a larger experience, a larger image of an immigrant and not necessarily a Latino immigrant. It talks about leaving a place that was home for a place that you wish to be home but you never quite get there.”
Berlin said the band, specifically lyricist Louie Perez, didn’t set out to create a conceptual album. As the record developed, so did its theme, and the stories began to fit together sequentially.
“It’s more of a cinematic thing, not having to set out to write something that has a political point of view,” Berlin said.
Berlin joined Los Lobos in 1983 after seeing the Lobos ” Perez (drums, guitar, percussion) Conrad Lozano (bass, guitarron, vocals), David Hidalgo (guitar, vocals, accordion, violin, banjo) and Ceasar Rosas (guitar, mandolin vocals) ” perform Mexican folk music one fateful evening at L.A.’s Olympic Auditorium for a crowd that came to see Public Image, a British punk band. The surly crowd pelted a response in the form of giant spitballs, bottles and cans. But at least it was something.
“In the late ’70s, in the late ’80s, that was the audience, those were the people out that evening to check stuff out,” Berlin said. “It wasn’t unusual to be on the bill with a punk band. It was a much more wide-open time, as far as music and where people’s ears were at.”
The Lobos kept at it and began expanding their sound, adding electric to their Mexican roots music. Berlin was in the Blasters, also a band from East L.A. that the Lobos admired and eventually, opened for. It was at these gigs when people started to notice.
Berlin was splitting his time between Los Lobos and the Blasters and eventually joined the group full time.
“Still to this day,” Berlin said, “had I not joined the band, they would have been my favorite band.”
Los Lobos went on to record their first full-length album, “By the Light of the Moon,” simultaneously while recording the soundtrack for “La Bamba,” a biographical film on Ritchie Valens, which went double platinum. The band won Grammys and continued to make music, which kept evolving, including albums “The Neighborhood (1990)” and the pivotal “Kiko (1992),” a dreamy story-telling album that garnered different types of fans. Almost 30 years later and the members of Los Lobos are still making music and touring. They play the Vilar Center in Beaver Creek Wednesday, and Berlin said fans can expect some new songs off “The Town and the City” and their classics.
“It’s the endless tour,” Berlin said. “It never really stops. It keeps going. We stay out on the road for years and years on end. We go home a couple of weeks. This is the longest break of the summer. But I’m a musician; it’s my job, and it beats flipping burgers.”
Arts and Entertainment Editor Cassie Pence can be reached
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