Steve Earle and Los Lobos have more in common than sharing the bill at the Arvada Center on Saturday night. They share dexterity at maneuvering through countless genres of music in one setting. For Earle, this means Scotch-Irish folk music, traditional bluegrass, sweet country ballads, protest songs and rock ‘n’ roll rippers. Los Lobos similarly move seamlessly through many types of traditional Latin American music from Norteno polka to cumbia, the blues, rockabilly, feel good “world class” rock songs to artsy psychedelia.
Earle and his band, the Dukes and Duchesses, got off to a sleepy start, but kicked things into gear after a few songs behind Earle’s fierce mandolin (or a related instrument called a bouzouki) playing on “Mystery Train Part II,” and “Galway Girl.” He next moved to the banjo for the bluegrass mourning of “Molly-O,” then into the sultry country sadness of “My Old Friend The Blues.” Eventually, Earle paid heed to the calls from a few audience members to “play some rock and roll!” and charged through an energetic “Copperhead Road,” a classic that seemed to please the somewhat sedate Arvada crowd. Earle invariably talks politics at his shows, but seemed to keep that to a minimum on Saturday night — though he did pontificate about his views on immigration as he introduced his love song to New York, “City of Immigrants.” Noticeably absent was Earle’s wife, singer-songwriter Allison Moorer, who was included on the bill for the evening but never appeared nor was mentioned during the set.
Los Lobos opened with a set of traditional Mexican music showcasing the epic mariachi guitar skills of band members David Hidalgo, Cesar Rosas, Conrad Lozano and Louie Perez. Hidalgo then traded his guitar for accordion for “La Pistola y el Corazon.” The band transitioned into the twinkly guitar magic of “Saint Behind the Glass,” one of several songs they played from their 1992 classic “Kiko” – an album which still sounds fresh and interesting two decades years later.
Los Lobos has been a band for nearly 40 years, and though it would be fair for these road warriors to be weary, their shows are consistently full of joyful energy and top-notch musicianship, bolstered by the recent addition of an exceptional young drummer, Enrique “Bugs” Gonzalez. By the end of their set on Saturday night, singer Cesar Rosas finally got the crowd to its feet to boogie through rockabilly renditions of “I Got Loaded,” and the Grateful Dead’s “Bertha.” Earle joined Los Lobos on stage for their feel-good oldies encore of the “She’s About a Mover” and “La Bamba.”
Amy McGrath is a Denver-based writer and regular contributor to Reverb.