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How Far is Heaven?

December 13, 2011

Los Lonely Boys live at The Dame, June 14, 2004 (photo by J. St. Orts)

In Back Pages, Jay shares concert reviews and notes on all matters musical from his personal archives. In this installment, Jay offers a review of June 14, 2004 show at Lexington, KY’s The Dame featuring Los Lonely Boys.

If you asked the audience, mostly composed of devout fans and an intrigued initiate like myself, Heaven was about as far away as the distance between one’s front door and a prized spot at the front of the Dame’s stage.

The Boys were anything but Lonely when the brothers Garza took the floor. Being lonely proved impossible as the show had sold out days in advance, and there was nothing in the way of emotional distance or detachment between guitar-slinger Henry, bass player Jojo, drummer Ringo, and the ecstatic masses that packed in to see them.

With the overwhelming critical reception given the Boys’ debut album (recorded at Willie Nelson’s studio, Pedernales) and the current heavy rotation of the first single “Heaven”, it should have come as no surprise that Lexington fans turned out in such numbers to see them. And yet, as I stood looking at the crowd, I couldn’t help but wonder how the band could have such a large, loyal following only one album into their career, and at their young age. I was to receive a swift education.

Questions of age (the Garza brothers are all in their early-to-mid twenties) and depth of catalog were irrelevant. The boys grew up playing music in their father’s band, The Falcones, and continued to play into their young adulthood when they branched out with their own project—Los Lonely Boys. Being raised on and listening to and collaboratively playing music gave them the experience and confidence to display the age-defying blend  of Tex Mex, R&B, electric blues, and hard Southern rock skills they brought to Lexington.

LLB somehow make this synthesis seem natural and unforced. They easily shift from scorching solos a la Stevie Ray Vaughn afflicted with a case of J. Hendrix Wah-Foot on the epic “Onda”, to the R&B-infused Spanglish rock of “Dime Mi Amor.” All this was underpinned by a solid Latin rock rhythm section and featured strong two-part vocal harmonies. (As a matter of fact, when describing the band’s sound to a coworker, he responded, “You mean, like the Stevie Ray Beatles or something?” Now-if that isn’t a testament to their fusion talents, I don’t know what is.)

Hendrix, Santana, Albert Collins, Michael Bloomfield, the Allmans, Sir Douglas Quintet, Stevie Ray Vaughn…the names kept repeating in my head throughout the show. Still, I found none of the performance lacking in originality, none of the improvisational sections and guitar or bass solos growing tedious. Even their astounding cover of War’s “Cisco Kid” sounded like it had been theirs all along as Henry punctuated the song with alternating soft and keen attacks.

For all the musical studiousness at work, the band was having as much fun playing the music as the audience was listening to it. They managed to pull off a hilarious yet deft bit of ZZ Top style guitarobics, complete with synchronized movements. Jojo played Henry’s guitar and his own bass— at the same time! There was even a drum solo and it was excellent. I caught myself thinking “Is this 1970…? Awesome!” The crowd couldn’t get enough of it, likely because the boys had the skills to back up the hijinks. In these post-ironic times, I think people are starving for well-crafted extended guitar solos, tight band interplay, and some showmanship.

This band knows when to hold back and when to let loose. After dedicating the Everlys-meets-the-Allmans “Heaven” to the Lexington fans that came out to show their support, the brothers tore into a raucous “Crazy Dream” that featured some exciting one-handed guitar and bass playing that was as exciting to see as it was interesting to hear.

With such a long history of playing together, immersion in such a mixture of so many genres, and such a strong focus on the vocal as well as instrumental components of song-writing, this band possesses the qualities that nearly ensure broad appeal and interest—this is Americana at its best and most inclusive. But, right here at home, they treated us like family, and I can tell you, when nearly everyone in the room knows and sings the words to your songs, the feeling was reciprocated. After I had been elbowed in the ribs about a hundred times in the crowded club, I turned to give the person next to me “what for.” But, when I saw the rapturous look on his face and noticed that he had been dancing and singing with his eyes closed, I smiled and said nothing. He’d figured out just how far heaven was, and I wasn’t about to mess with that.

Related posts:

TBTS Reviews: Los Lonely Boys – Rockpango

Of Hard-Edged Roots Rockers and Masked Men: Dave Alvin w/ Los Straitjackets

Roger McGuinn: I Swear It’s Not Too Late….

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