Throughout this year’s Boston Summer Arts Weekend, the announcers and organizers tried to make
“B-SAW” happen as shorthand for the free event, now in its third year. It’s probably not going to. Nor did it have to, as long as the lineups are as strong as the one that filled Copley Square on Saturday evening. With flamenco, New Orleans brass bands, and straight-up rock ’n’ roll, the program might have seemed to be a mishmash, but there was plenty to keep the crowd on the plaza cheering on a cool summer’s night.
The modern flamenco and gypsy music of onetime Berklee student Jesse Cook kicked off the evening, and while there were a few jaw-dropping runs from his guitar, he was largely more focused on clean, clear melodies. Carrying himself with a soft-spoken, borderline smug self-assurance, he seemed to always be processing his music from an academic standpoint. But it was a curious and engaged academic standpoint, and Cook developed some strong rhythmic interplay with his band, especially percussionist Chendy Leon.
With six horns and two drummers, the Soul Rebels were almost nothing but joyous instrumental crosstalk. They were simultaneously tight as could be while careening all over the place, managing to locate a syncopated bounce even within the unwavering eighth-note synth line of Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This).” Largely segueing straight from one song to the next, they kept the party going without coming up for air. That was almost literally the case for sousaphonist Edward Lee Jr., whose booming brap carried through almost nonstop, even when the front line would drop their instruments to dance, sing through the song transitions, or exhort the crowd.
There are times when Los Lobos could be mistaken for the best rock ’n’ roll band in America, and the 10 o’clock hour on Saturday was one of them. With its warm, ringing guitars, opener “Will the Wolf Survive?” sounded like nothing less than a classic, and “Evangeline,” “Come On, Let’s Go” and “I Can’t Understand” — complete with tight, efficient guitar solos by César Rosas and David Hidalgo that were no less terrific for their complete absence of flash — presented Los Lobos as a great garage group honed by decades of practice.
But even though that’d be enough for anyone else, it’s never been enough for Los Lobos, and the band took detours down a few crooked paths, some of which echoed the earlier acts. There was the Latin melodicism of “Cumbia Raza,” with Louie Pérez rhythmically scratching at his jarana huasteca, as well as the off-center New Orleans roll of Fats Domino’s “The Fat Man,” which went through three different beats, all of them swinging. And Hidalgo strapped on an accordion for the supple dream-logic sway of “Kiko and the Lavender Moon” and Cajun shuffle of “Let’s Say Goodnight.”
The exuberance of the music contrasted with the blissful cool with which most of the band carried themselves. (The major exception was terrifically versatile drummer Enrique Gonzalez, sporadically grinning throughout.) But Hidalgo’s friendly tenor gave him a warm openness, even when he was singing about getting hammered. And with Boston soul man Barrence Whitfield delivering a fiery vocal (while fellow local Mike Costello joined in on harmonica), Los Lobos tore through the hard-charging, gospelly rock ’n’ roll of show closer “Georgia Slop” as if realizing that there was no need to hold anything in reserve.Marc Hirsh can be reached at official
firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @spacecitymarc.