Rockin’ the suburbs with Los Lobos

Los Lobos

New venues help bring Grammy winners — and many others — to Southern Ontarians’ backyards. Just don’t get them started about Donald Trump.

Nick Krewen

Music, Tues., Jan 31, 2017

Suburbanites: now you don’t necessarily have to go to Toronto to see the big shows — more than ever, they’re coming to you.

This week, for example, four-time Grammy winners Los Lobos perform at the Burlington Performing Arts Centre on Jan. 31 and then, in the next three days, at similar venues in Oakville, St. Catharines and Richmond Hill.

It’s a tour that probably wouldn’t have happened without the relatively recent openings of the Burlington and St. Catharines locales — which opened in 2011 and 2015 respectively and, with the additions of Mississauga’s Living Arts Centre, Brampton’s Rose Theatre and Flato Markham Theatre, now comprise a chain of community-driven “edge-city” venues that average between 500 and 1,000 in seating capacity.

Oakville Centre manager Robin Howarth says the venues occasionally band together to snag a most prestigious act through block booking.

“If we want to bring up this artist to our venue, they’re not going to fly up from New York City or L.A. to do one night,” Howarth explains. So these venues “put together a tour for them, organized (through) Ontario Presents, a province-wide network of presenting and touring organizations.”

Aside from Los Lobos, recent acts that have taken advantage include Burton Cummings, country singer Lee Ann Womack, comedians Steven Wright and Howie Mandel, singer Jann Arden, rockers The Tea Party and songwriter Bruce Cockburn, to name a few. Taken as a group, these acts’ commercial peak came a few years ago — but all of them have large numbers of fans still, most of whom are likely glad to see them without enduring Toronto traffic.

Veteran L.A. rock band Los Lobos comes to the Toronto area this week making a kind of local tour, playing arts centres in Burlington, Oakville and Richmond Hill.
Veteran L.A. rock band Los Lobos comes to the Toronto area this week making a kind of local tour, playing arts centres in Burlington, Oakville and Richmond Hill.  (DREW REYNOLDS / HANDOUT PHOTO)  

The small-theatre circuit also bypasses the radius clause imposed by primary-market Toronto concert promoters, which restricts further appearances by an act within a certain time and distance.

Despite their proximity, Oakville Centre’s Howarth says research reveals “85 per cent of our audience comes from within the boundaries of our own cities and towns.”

“On occasion, there is saturation or dilution of an act where we split audiences,” says Howarth, mentioning that as of last Friday Los Lobos — who perform three days earlier in nearby Burlington — have only sold 60-65 per cent of the capacity in Oakville.

“It’s part of the risk of our business,” he admits.

Perhaps it will help that Los Lobos is heading into this tour with a bit of momentum. The veteran Latin-flavoured L.A. rock band was announced as the latest recipients of the BMI Icon Award last week, joining the ranks of Carlos Santana, Paul Simon, Brian Wilson, Dolly Parton, and Gloria Estefan as artists honoured for their songwriting.

Drummer and lyricist Louie Perez, who began this Canadian string of dates on Monday by opening an exhibit of 12 watercolour and Sumi Ink paintings at the True North Music Gallery in Waterdown, said the accolade took the band by surprise.

“It’s terrific,” says Perez, 63, who co-founded the East L.A. band with David Hidalgo, Cesar Rosas and Conrad Lozano in 1973. “Sometimes it feels like we’re looking over our shoulders and wondering, who are they talking about?

“We’ve played venues that we’ve only dreamed about — Carnegie Hall, the Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco — and travelled to places throughout the world that four kids from East Side would only dream of. It’s been a fantastic trip: 43 years last November.”

Ironically, the band’s biggest and only No. 1 smash — 1987’s “La Bamba” — wasn’t written by them, but was a Mexican folkloric number adapted by Ritchie Valens in the late 1950s. Perez said their now 30-year-old version was a blessing and a curse.

“At the time, it felt almost like our entire recording career was pre-empted and eclipsed by this big hit,” he recalls. “It took us a little while — with some determination and a certain degree of fortitude — to resist ‘La Bamba No. 2’ and (not) sell Doritos for the rest of our lives.

“The way we did that was through a follow-up record of traditional Mexican music called La pistola y el corazón.

“People wrote that we had committed commercial suicide, but we had to get back to what we set out to do: explore the music of our own culture, dig deep into creating original music, and pick up where we left off.”

Perez, who says Los Lobos performs without setlists, says he is proud “to expose the world to our Mexican culture” and calls the current conflict between U.S. President Donald Trump and Mexico “horrible.”

“My parents crossed the border to improve the quality of their lives,” Perez explains. “So I’m not just biased because I’m of Mexican descent: I’m directly one of the subjects of this great American experiment.

“And I think it’s just obscene that the people who have contributed to this country for a century suddenly are thought to be, as somebody said, ‘rapists and drug dealers.’ It’s hideous.

“I know one thing for certain — we’re not going to be playing the White House any time soon.”

Los Lobos perform Tuesday in Burlington, Wednesday at the Oakville Centre for the Performing Arts, Thursday at St. Catharines’ FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre and Friday at the Richmond Hill Centre for the Performing Arts.

Rockin’ the suburbs with Los Lobos | Toronto Star

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