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Los Lobos does it like no one else can

LA-grown band brings its signature sound to Maui

The Los Angeles-grown American rock band Los Lobos will perform at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center on Jan. 15, with Kanekoa opening the concert. — PIERO F. GIUNTI photo

One of America’s greatest rock bands, performing for close to 50 years, is returning to Maui this month on the heels of an album that pays homage to its hometown of Los Angeles.

Los Lobos’ “Native Sons” features memorable covers of classic songs by artists ranging from Jackson Browne and the Beach Boys to Buffalo Springfield and WAR, along with songs by Chicano and Latino artists like Lalo Guerrero and Thee Midniters.

The multi-Grammy-winning band will put on a concert at the Maui Arts and Cultural Center’s Castle Theater on Jan. 15 with Kanekoa opening.

“We had a very busy 2020 planned, and we thought about doing a covers record,” Los Lobos’ saxophonist/keyboardist Steve Berlin explained. “We wanted a theme with a focus. Having a thematic unity gave it a reason to exist, not just a generic covers record. We could do it in bits and pieces and then make an original album down the line. We started it just before the pandemic, and then everything shut down.”

Few bands can effortlessly cover so many genres, and with “Native Sons,” WAR’s funk classic “The World Is A Ghetto” is stretched over eight minutes, Buffalo Springfield’s “Bluebird” and “For What It’s Worth” are transformed into a rousing psychedelic rock medley and the Beach Boys’ majestic “Sail On Sailor” was lovingly recreated.

“We wanted to tell a story and thank the people who are our main DNA,” Berlin continued. “Every song had a direct influence on us and how we approached making music. We had never covered a WAR song before, and we feel we owe them a debt as the first Latin American band to penetrate the consciousness. We were big Buffalo Springfield fans from the early days, and the guys grew up with Thee Midniters in East LA.”

Formed in East Los Angeles in 1973, Los Lobos developed a cult following fusing traditional Mexican folkloric influences with rock ‘n’ roll. The band’s debut EP recording ” . . .And A Time To Dance” earned them a Grammy for best Mexican-American performance. Their first album, “How Will The Wolf Survive?” hinted at their eclectic potential, displaying influences ranging from folk and jazz through Tex-Mex to ’50s rock.

Continually innovating while drawing from a deep well, albums like “The Neighborhood” showcased this powerhouse blasting through a melange of gritty rock, growling blues boogie and soulful folk. Later with “Colossal Head,” they conjured a hallucinogenic hybrid of deconstructed rock, ferocious funk, roaring Latin fire and murky blues shuffles.

Their most recent album of new material, “Gates Of Gold” in 2015, burst with creative originality. One would be hard-pressed to find another American band successfully releasing such diverse, exhilarating rock music. An AllMusic review praised: “Gates Of Gold shows they can contemplate the infinite and chart new paths while still sounding like no one but themselves.”

“Being around for 50 years it becomes harder over the years to do something that we haven’t done before,” Berlin noted. “But we’re lucky that we get to explore different persona. We’re perfectly content to be in this weird planet that we’ve built for decades. It’s a brotherhood, not unlike Kanekoa who have been together for quite a while. There are a lot of similarities. They have a built-in tensile strength. They are all great musicians. For them, it’s just about making great music.”

In 2020, Berlin began working as a producer on a marvelous new album by Maui’s Kanekoa, “Songs From the Great Disruption,” released on Jan. 14. Likely a future Na Hoku Hanohano Award winner, it features such highlights as Vince Esquire and Jake Shimabukuro trading lead ukulele on Led Zeppelin’s “Going to California,” and a moving cover of Frank Kawaikapuokalani Hewett’s “Aloha Ka Leo O Kahi Manu” with Amy Hanaiali’i and Eric Gilliom on background vocals, George Kahumoku Jr. on slack key guitar and Geri Valdriz on lap steel. Other guests on the album include John Cruz and G. Love.

Playing saxophone and keyboards on “Songs From the Great Disruption,” Berlin worked entirely remotely with the group. “They had opened a show for us in Arizona and we just started talking,” he said. “The pandemic shut down the idea of me coming to the island and we were able to make a really cool record remotely. This was in the really dark part of 2020 when it didn’t feel like that world was ever going to come back to normal. In my mind, I was in Hawaii and everything was cool. It was very peaceful and restorative for my psyche. The beauty of their music made a huge effect on me.”

Impressed with the spirit of Hawaii the Maui band evokes, he added, “the music is so peaceful. It’s hard to be in a bad mood listening to those guys or feel the world is going to hell.”

Grateful to be back on the road again and returning to Hawaii, Berlin said, “every show is somewhat of a miracle these days. One thing we learned through the whole process is how much live music means. I just love being able to go out and play music in front of people. The human interaction is so important and powerful.”

Los Lobos plays the MACC’s Castle Theater at 7:30 p.m. on Jan. 15. Kanekoa will open. Tickets are $15, $35, $55, $85 and a limited number of $125 Gold Circle seats plus applicable fees. Tickets are only available online at MauiArts.org. Attendees must be fully vaccinated and show proof with photo ID and must wear a mask at all times. The concert will include a dance floor for orchestra-level ticketed patrons only.

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