X, Los Lobos and the Blasters Have a Reunion: Due to its close proximity to the OC Fair, getting into the Pacific Amphitheatre can be a trial. Masses of traffic from the freeway, and then a Crystal Maze-esque task to navigate the parking lots — by the time you get into the venue and find your seat, you very much deserve the prize of stellar live music. Side note — the fair seemed to be full and crowded — we can only hope that those people were as respectful of CDC rules as the largely masked contingent of old punks and rockers in the Amphitheatre.
Still, once it going the night just got increasingly better. The Blasters tore the pace up with their “American Music.” They got a hero’s welcome from this Costa Mesa crowd too, as the likes of “Marie Marie” and “I’m Shakin'” came and went in a blur. Phil Alvin’s voice is still a force of nature and, while longtime fans of the band might still pine for the return of Dave Alvin, guitarist Keith Wyatt is a spectacular player. Like all of the bands on this bill, the Blasters have always wallowed in rockabilly while sitting comfortably in the punk scene. Tonight highlighted their hellraisin’ side as well as their long glance at the past. As for Dave Alvin… hold tight.
Los Lobos are perhaps one of the most underrated and undervalued bands in the history of rock & roll. Those that know, really know. But anyone only familiar with their number one hit cover of Ritchie Valens’ “La Bamba” is doing themselves and the band a disservice. Sure, they finished the set with that song here. But pretty much everything that preceded it was so much more rewarding. Punk, cumbia, traditional Mexican music, country and rockabilly all smashed together over an hour of brilliance.
The new album is a covers record called Native Sons and there’s a Blasters song on there — “Flat Top Joint.” When they performed that here, they pulled out Phil AND DAVE Alvin. As the crowd realized that Dave was up there, as word got to the back, you could feel the buzz. And damn, did the Alvins ever deliver.
Dave would reappear later for a couple more tunes, a reminder that these bands have been linked for years (Los Lobos keys man Steve Berlin is a former Blaster). But the whole set was a blur. “How Will the Wolf Survive” is always a highlight, but then the entire thing is spectacular.
That just left X to try to top their openers. Of course, they were up to the task. In Alphabetland they had one of the best albums released during lockdown, and we were itching to hear those songs in a live environment The superb title track arrived early, and it sounded perfect next to the iconic “Los Angeles.”
Exene and John Doe’s voices both sound sublime, with Doe in particular still moving like an enthusiastic teen. “The New World,” “We’re Desperate,” “White Girl” and “Dancing With Tears in My Eyes” have passed before we’ve blinked, leaving us to wonder at just how great this most important of L.A. bands still is live.
These three bands have history. They’ve played together forever and occasionally swapped members. That camaraderie was key tonight – the whole evening felt like a family reunion and benefited from that closeness. Call it punk, call it rockabilly, call it what you want — we call it heaven.