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Above: “Chuco’s Cumbia” at Austin City Limits 2006

By Joel Francis

The Kansas City Star

For a band as accomplished as Los Lobos, the reach from Jimi Hendrix and Willie Dixon to Richard Thompson and Ritchie Valens is a small one. The gulf between the lip of the stage and the front row, however, can be trickier to navigate.

The sextet’s 16-song, two-hour set was a celebration of all forms of music from New Orleans soul to Spanish mariachi. However, bottom-heavy sound and fixed seating proved nearly insurmountable for the band during the latest entry in the “Cyprus Avenue Live at the Folly Theater” on Sunday night.

The show never completely got off the ground, but it had its share of inspired moments. “Chuco’s Cumbia” featured a dirty Latin groove, while a medley of “The Neighborhood” and “Wang Dang Doodle” bridged the South Side of Chicago to East Los Angeles. The first set ended with a cover of Richard Thompson’s “Shoot Out the Lights” anchored by a thunderous backbeat.

After a 25-minute break, the band returned with a second set guaranteed to knock the yawn out of any weary political supporters (there were plenty of T-shirts from Saturday’s rally throughout the crowd). The one-two of “Come On Let’s Go” and “Don’t Worry Baby” got people involved, if not on their feet. The band traded 88 piano keys for 22 guitar strings on their cover of Fats Domino’s “The Fat Man,” which included a shuffling solo from drummer Cougar Estrada.

The high point of the night was a surprise cover of Jimi Hendrix’ “Little Wing.” Between David Hildago’s lead guitar and Cesar Rosas’ vocals, they not only nailed the song, but stretched it out and made it their own.

There were plenty of covers, but the band also touched on all phases of its career. While lesser bands make a career out of mining the same niche, Los Lobos were able to transition from the early rockabilly of “Shakin’ Shakin’ Shakes” to the more experimental “Kiko and the Lavender Moon,” and from the Spanish festivity of “Maria Christina” to the quiet introversion of “The Valley.”

The sound was muddy for most of the night and Steve Berlin suffered the brunt of it. His keyboards and woodwinds were often barely audible in the mix. The Folly is a wonderful venue for intimate shows -– recent performances by the Dave Brubeck Quartet and Randy Newman were sonically incredible -– but it is ill-suited for six amplified musicians.

The rigid seating and formal environment also inhibited the dancing and shaking Los Lobos’ music cries for. Toots and the Maytals, an earlier “Cyprus Avenue”/Folly booking, faced the same problem at its reggae concert last year. The younger crowd that turned out that night was less inhibited about dancing in the aisles.

Hildago finally coaxed people to their feet before “I Got Loaded,” and the band followed up with the one number guaranteed to keep everyone on their feet: “La Bamba.” After a brief encore break, the band picked up where they left off with a blistering “Good Morning Aztlan” and a frantic “Cumbia Raza” that featured another drum solo from Estrada and guitar solos from Louie Perez and Hildago. Just as the band and audience were hitting the mark, the band closed the set. It was a shame they had to stop. It felt like they were just getting started.

Setlist: Short Side of Nothing, Chuco’s Cumbia, The Valley, Luz d Mi Vida, The Neighborhood/Wang Dang Doodle, Shakin’ Shakin’ Shakes, Shoot Out the Light (intermission) Maria Christina, Kiko and the Lavender Moon, Come On Let’s Go, Don’t Worry Baby, Little Wing, The Fat Man, I Got Loaded, La Bamba/Good Lovin'(encores) Good Morning Aztlan, Cumbia Raza

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