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Concert For Democracy With Los Super Seven And Dave Alvin At The Ukrainian Culture Center, Friday, June 16, 2023

Los Super Seven
Dave Alvin and David Hidalgo

Tex Mex music legends supporting Texas Turnout at the Ukrainian Cultural Center? This sounded like an interesting cultural event! The night brought together the supergroup Los Super Seven, featuring members of Los Lobos (Cesar Rosas, David Hidalgo, and Steve Berlin), Ruben Ramos (also known as “El Gato Negro), Rick Trevino, as well as singer-songwriter Gaby Moreno, Los Texmaniacs, Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Dave Alvin of the Blasters plus a few other guests. All proceeds of the show went to Texas Turnout, a “nonpartisan voting engagement and outreach coalition of nonprofits established to increase youth voter turnout in the Rio Grande Valley (RGV) of Texas.” Texas will be a pivotal place during the upcoming election and the actions of such organizations are essential, especially when efforts to suppress the votes have accelerated in certain Texas communities. And since it was a concert for democracy, a portion of event proceeds also went to the Ukrainian Cultural Center’s ongoing war relief efforts in Ukraine. It was the second concert for Democracy, as Cesar Rosas and David Hidalgo already played there last year for the same cause, but it was pure luck that I found out about yesterday’s show, which was taken place only 5 minutes from my house.

Tex-Mex music is warm and welcoming, it is joyful and passionate, and the night offered a large diversity of it. The presence of the accordion (brought over by the Germans and Czechs that settled in Texas in the 1800s) has inspired all these polkas and waltzes but it is interesting to see how the Mexicans have transformed the original sound. It is well present in Los Lobos’ catalog, but their music has many more facets. I have followed them for a long time, probably since the mid-’80s, after the release of their breakthrough album “How Will the Wolf Survive?” (I was not even living in Los Angeles at the time) and their sound has always been appealing and rewarding, mixing familiar blues rock tempos with more exotic rhythms borrowing from a large sonic palette, roots rock, Latin rock, Cumbia, Chicano rock, folk, and traditional Mexican music.

As for Los Super Seven (the name announced on the bill of the event), they have never been a supergroup per se but rather a fluid collective that ended up releasing three albums while assembling members of different Mexican American bands. Friday’s event gathered Rick Trevino, David Hidalgo, Cesar Rosas, and Ruben Ramos who were all featured on the first Los Super Seven album.

Presented by writer-executive producer Don Foster, the night started with traditional Mexican songs accompanied by traditional accordion (Xochi Flores and César Castro of Cambalache, and members of Texmaniacs) followed by Ben Jaffe and Drew Taubenfeld, who were mixing pedal steel despite a more indie sound and an occasional R&B touch in the vocals. These two were part of Kacey Musgraves’ band during her 2022 Star-Crossed concert tour, adding a star flavor to the event. The evening kicked in with the festive dynamism of Los Texmaniacs, a group obviously from Texas and playing polka-style aka Norteño music. It was so foot-tapping, jumpy, and inviting that a few couples started dancing and waltzing in front of the stage.

Los Texmaniacs won a Grammy Award with “Borders y Bailes” in 2010 and their blend of Tex-Mex, cumbia, country, and other Latin rhythms, got very popular. Rick Trevino joined them for a few songs, and did, in particular, the straightforward “I am a Mexican.” From sped-up polkas, with Josh Baca’s virtuoso accordion, to slower vintage rock songs, with Steve Albini’s saxo and wobbling keys, it was a trip through a palette of styles, soon completed by the arrival on stage of Ruben Ramos and his lamenting croon. Introduced as The Mexican Frank Sinatra, the 83-year-old Tejano music singer performed slow waltzes and poignant songs, the type of Mexican folk songs you hear in the soundtrack of the movie “Frida.” “Esta Vida,” from his latest album released in 2022, was filled with a joyful and sunny tempo and an appetite for life.

There were more and more people on stage, and I don’t remember exactly when David Hidalgo joined the group, but he stayed on stage almost the entire night. Guatemalan singer-songwriter Gaby Moreno has an exceptional voice, sweet and powerful at the same time, and her catalog reaches many genres and styles, which was perfect for the night. From old Latin classics to a more blues-rock song in English (“Nobody’s Wrong”) to the strong Spanish flavor of “Mal Hombre,” it seemed that this woman could cover a lot of grounds, completely effortlessly.

David Hidalgo and Rick Trevino did a touching version of the slow waltz “Rio de Tenampa” – the last song from Los Lobos’ album “Kiko” and one of my favorites – and when Dave Alvin of the Blasters joined the band on stage for just a few songs, the direction shifted to a more rocking sound. With a killer glance under his black hat and long white hair, he first covered Los Lobos’ own “Flat Top Joint” with Hidalgo, followed by “4th of July,” a song made famous by X but written by Alvin, and the Cajun flavor of the famous “Marie Marie.” I wanted more of this Alvin-Hidalgo duo but that was it for the ex-Blasters. Then Cesar Rosas showed up and it was a full blast of Los Lobos hits, including “Don’t Worry Baby,” as well as “Chuco’s Cumbia,” as well as a bunch of songs in Spanish including “Mexico Americano” – all the others sounded familiar but their catalog is so vast and they were playing without a setlist in sight – and their Ritchie Valens’ favorite covers (“Come on Let’s Go,” La Bamba”). Even though some of these songs have been heard and played a million times, Los Super Seven and beyond – except for Dave Alvin, everyone was back on stage – had a fresh take and truly rocked the place. It was a fantastic night of Tex-Mex music in all its different incarnations, and, at this point, very few people were still sitting on their chairs, and the front of the stage became the dance pit it should always have been.

 

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