Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Like Naming a Band Iceland

What drives the meteoric success of Los Lonely Boys?

Those Garza boys sure can play.

Let's just get right to the point. Henry's phenomenal guitar-playing comes along once in a generation. Pair that with the family chemistry, and we might as well just sit back and enjoy the arc of their careers for the next 20 years. (That's before reunion tours.) It would be interesting to write the novel now, and see how close it all works out to reality in the end.


There's not an ironic bone in their bodies.

Their music is "pure," as one fan put it. The lyrics are often simple, even bordering on romantic cliches. And yet, the 2- and 3-part vocal harmonies breathe uncanny life into them. Subliminal, historic echoes here include the close ties between doowop and conjunto (remember Selena's dad?), between doowop and Latin R&B, and the plethora of family-based border duos and bolero trios that surely everybody's Texican, Mexican, Chicano, Puertorican and Nuyorican mama, tia and abuelita played in her living room every night. Guitars and voices: it's a Latin thing. Loyal lovers are Los Lonely Boys, in song, and no wonder. This is modern serenade.

Their sound is a wide frontier.

There's a little bit of everything in there. Not just precursor Chicano rockers like Santana and Los Lobos. Not just Texas bluesmen Willie Nelson and Stevie Ray Vaughn. But everything contagious about British and American pop from blues to Beatles, from Aerosmith to ZZ Top. Contrary to the politics some would have us believe, I don't think Americans really fear frontiers. In fact, we have a romantic fascination with them. LLB's "Texican rock" is a new interpretation on that theme as savvy as it is dazzling. The result: commercial embrace, even though they don't sound like anything else on the radio.

I fell in love with my TV set when Los Lonely Boys had their big breakthrough moment, performing "Heaven" on either Conan or Leno (can't remember which, some latenight show). What is THIS? I thought. Where did THIS come from?

The song hinted at the spirituality that runs through Sacred (album #2) and now, Forgiven. The title track, like "Heaven," sounds like a...well, pardon the Madonna reference and accompanying baggage, but like a prayer. Not prayers for church, but prayers for a bus station or a dressing room.

"We're Christians, we believe in God," says cousin Robert Garza, a member of the tour management crew. (Sorry guys; this is as close as I got to a backstage interview.) Robert had the family hair--smooth, coiffed a la Jojo--and the same, resonant Garza voice. It's easy to believe that their fathers had a band together back in the day.

"Los Falcones. They played Latin music," says Robert about the uncles' band. I've read they played the Texas conjunto circuit in the '60s and '70s.

This show at the Carolina Theatre was an add-on to LLB's Forgiven tour. You can listen to the whole album free (listen only) on their website.

Los Hermanos Garza

I thought Ringo would have sounded just as good with half as big a drum kit. Maybe that's because I was in front of a speaker, so my heart thumped every time he hit his bass drum. Still, I had a clear sightline to Henry, so I wasn't complaining.

A cat named Carmelo had a little timbales and bongo-stand set-up in the back. That's a nice symbolic texture, but you couldn't hear him much. His one cymbal seemed a futile adjunct to Ringo's 10 (possibly, not an exaggeration). I didn't catch Carmelo's last name, but I could tell he had Latin jazz cred because he had his Kangol hat on backwards.

Henry and Jojo

For me, the intensity cranked up unexpectedly in the middle of their show, on a smoldering, slow number (the lyrics had something to do with "my angel"). They did awesome stuff with vocal tempo, like bending and leaning on it en masse. I guess this gave me my Latin swing or something, because I started saying my amens aloud and in Spanish. Henry pulled out a harmonica and threw in some references to WAR's "Low Rider." Nice touch.

It's easy to see why, in 3 years, this band has chugged out 2 live CDs/DVDs (on top of 3 studio albums), and are featured in a live-show documentary. You just have to be there. I won't praise them to high heaven; they're building their own ladder.

1 comment:

Sylvia P. said...

I've identified LLB's mystery timbalero: Carmelo Torres, son of Portland-based percussionist and bandleader Bobby Torres. Carmelo lives in Austin and is part of the band Del Castillo.