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40 for 40: Los Lobos, ACL mark four-decade milestone together

Peter Blackstock

Editor’s note: This article was originally published April 15, 2014

“Forty years, people!” David Hidalgo of Los Lobos marveled a few songs into the band’s two-hour, 20-song set kicking off the 40th season of “Austin City Limits” TV tapings. “I’m glad you’re still here … and I’m glad WE’RE still here.”

Los Lobos, too, is celebrating its 40th year, a remarkable feat for a band that shows no signs of slowing down even as its core members hover on both sides of age 60. The East Lost Angeles band’s Monday appearance at ACL Live marked their fifth taping of the program, and they touched on nearly all eras of their career in a retrospective tour de force.

Early on, they dug into their 1988 Spanish-language “La Pistola y El Corazon” album, showcasing the complex rhythms that became a Los Lobos hallmark as the band progressed from its more straightforward Latin rock ’n’ roll beginnings. They revisited that period too, delivering tracks such as “Let’s Say Goodnight,” “Don’t Worry Baby” and “Set Me Free (Rosa Lee)” from their mid-’80s heyday.

The groundbreaking 1992 album “Kiko” was well-represented with four cuts, its adventurous explorations paving the way for the polyrhythmic, danceable tunes that have increasingly become Los Lobos’ bread and butter in the new millennium.

The audience was a bit subued at first, prompting Cesar Rosas to remark, “It’s so quiet!” Gradually the band gathered momentum, and by the time they dedicated “Ay Te Dejo En San Antonio” to the great conjunto accordionist Flaco Jimenez, the place was bubbling over.

One problem: They got some words wrong, prompting a retake. “Since we’re playing it for Flaco, we’ve got to do it right,” said Hidalgo, before launching into a second try – and false-starting.

The third time was the charm, but really the song’s energy was so inspiring that the audience just kept getting more and more amped up with each successive rendition. They probably wouldn’t have minded at all if Los Lobos just kept blazing through “Ay Te Dejo” for the rest of the night.

“We’ve been playing that one for 35 years,” Rosas noted as the band laughed off the missteps. “After 45 years, maybe we’ll have it down.”