Although Los Lobos have been through KCRW’s studios probably a dozen times (not to mention an equal amount of deejays), Morning Becomes Eclectic host Jason Bentley had to admit that this appearance was special. “We’ve actually never had anyone play an album in its entirety,” Bentley told the on-air audience — and those of us who were lucky enough to be in the studio.
Released 20 years ago and considered the veteran band’s masterpiece, KIKO left La Bamba way, way in the rearview mirror. Although Los Lobos played an abbreviated version of KIKO, Bentley’s amused directive to “drop the needle” meant nearly an hour of stretched-out live bliss as guitarist/lead vocalist David Hidalgo, guitarist/percussionist Louie Pérez, bassist Conrad Lozano (whose photo from an early ‘90s studio appearance hung on the sound booth’s wall), saxophonist/keyboardist Steve Berlin, and drummer Enrique “Bugs” Gonzalez turned KIKO’s surreal, oblique song cycle into a nothing-left-to-prove back porch jam. (Guitarist Cesar Rosas was a no-show due to a scheduling conflict.)
Starting with the stuttering drum pattern of “Dream in Blue” and the ominous Aztec chant of “Wake Up Delores,” the band wound through the chugging, mechanized heartbreak of “Angels With Dirty Faces” (featuring Berlin’s big-boned alto sax) and the glittering dreamscapes of “Kiko and the Lavender Moon,” aided by Hidalgo’s crisp runs on a spanking new gold-and-black Flaco Jimenez accordion. Perez stepped up to play a tiny, East L.A.-crafted jarana acoustic guitar and sing lead for the twirling huapango lilt of “Saint Behind the Glass,” which he dedicated to a dying friend. Hidalgo dedicated “The Short Side of Nothing” to his granddaughter Selma’s birthday before remembering how depressing the song was: “Odd choice, I know. She’s four. She doesn’t know the lyrics. She just likes to dance to it.” Then the Wolves pulled out the barnburner “Whiskey Trail” so that everyone watching in the standing-room only studio could do the same. Feliz cumpleaños, Selma.