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"Captures the band in peak performance, as they faithfully re-create the mood and magic of their most critically acclaimed work."
Released in 1992, Los Lobos' Kiko was a landmark album. Not only was it a critical and commercial success, but it saw the band move in a new and creative songwriting direction. To celebrate Kiko' twentieth anniversary, Shout! Factory has released the concert film Kiko Live, featuring a previously unreleased 2006 live performance of the entire album, plus interview snippets with band members and other folks involved in the recording of Kiko.
Los Lobos has spent the past three decades mixing Chicano rock, country, Tex-Mex, blues, R&B, jazz, and Mexican folk music into a rootsy cross-cultural stew. Though their biggest hit was a cover of Richie Valens' "La Bamba" from the 1987 film of the same name, the band has built a dedicated fanbase by relentlessly touring their original material. The band has retained the same talented line-up since their formation, too—David Hidalgo (vocals, guitar, accordion); Cesar Rosas (vocals, guitar), Louie Perez (guitar, percussion, vocals); Conrad Lozano (bass, backing vocals); and Steve Berlin (saxaphone, keyboard). This sort of longevity is rare in rock music, and suggests how committed and comfortable the band members are making music with each other.
And it shows. Los Lobos is absolutely joyful on stage in Kiko Live, trading laughs and guitar riffs as they work through the album's 16 cuts. Their stuff sounds great in this setting. Where the tunes sounded sonically innovative on the album, they sound raw and expansive live. The material from Kiko is stylistically varied, shifting between blues workout ("That Train Don't Stop Here"), dusty Southwest instrumental ("Arizona Skies"), and dreamy soundscapes ("Kiko and the Lavender Moon"). The band handles all of these nuances with aplomb. David Hidalgo—my vote for rock music's great under-appreciated singer/guitarist—is consistently killer on each song, making his versatility look like it's easy. I'm usually underwhelmed by Cesar Rosas' handful of contributions on each Los Lobos album, but his "Wicked Rain" is one of the standouts of this concert—by the end of the song, I thought my screen was going to melt. Another highlight is "Saint Behind the Glass," one of the few songs in the Los Lobos catalog with Louie Perez on lead vocals. It's one of the album's best tracks, a light Latin folk piece that's both whimsical and sad, and comes off even more fragile on stage.
The performances on Kiko Live are interspersed with short interviews from the band members, producer Mitchell Froom, and sound engineer/audio fetishist Tchad Blake. The various members offer insight on the songs' origins, how tight-knit their families are, and how the band shifted from playing folk tunes for their east Los Angeles Mexican-American community ,to covering Hendrix and Zeppelin in bars. These interview shorts are usually interesting and substantial, especially when they focus on songwriting and the band's history. Lozano's clips are often the best—instead of setting him up in a dark room for his commentary, the camera instead follows the bass player around in his convertible as he cruises around LA, cracking jokes and making non-stop U-turns. If you want to watch the concert without any of the interviews, there's a "concert only" option—it's obvious where they plucked the talking head segments, though, which leads to a few awkward pauses between tunes.
The standard def 1.33:1 full frame presentation on Kiko Live is fine, with the only noticeable inconsistencies being how grainy the interview segments end up, when compared with the concert footage. The House of Blues stage in San Diego is awash in rich colors, and nothing ever looks off. There are a few questionable choices in camera placement (why suddenly cut to the bottom of the body on Hidalgo's guitar while he's playing a solo?), but overall everything is shot well and clear.
As for the audio, the Dolby 2.0 Stereo track sounds good, though a few instruments—Perez' guitar and Lozando's bass—sometimes get lost in the mix. The Dolby 5.1 Surround track sorts this out, and everything sounds crisp and well-balanced. The crowd noise, while serving as a good indicator of how packed the venue was that night, never threatens to drown out the music on either mix. The sound for the interview segments also cuts through well, even during Lozando's car-based escapades.
If there's a knock against this disc, it's how scant the extras are. There's a brief photo slideshow, a few more short interviews (one of which focuses on the band's performance of "La Bamba"), and the three-song encore to the DVD's main event. The encore is a lot of fun, with the band bashing out a trio of Mexican folk tunes—Perez even reprises his original roll in the band for these songs, replacing touring drummer Ruben "Cougar" Estrada on the drum kit. I can understand why these tunes are set apart from the rest of the set, but it is disappointing that they're the majority of the extras.
All in all, Los Lobos: Kiko Live not only serves to show how good the music from Kiko is, but how formidable Los Lobos is as a live act. If you like the band, you'll love this DVD. If you're not familiar with them, this serves as a great gateway into the band's material, as the quality of the music makes this release a winner.
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