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We Know It’s Only Rock N’ Roll But We Like It

THE WOLF SURVIVES: Los Lobos/Taj Mahal, The Keswick, Thur. Night [FLICKR]

BY JONATHAN VALANIA FOR THE INQUIRER Taj Mahal doesn’t work too hard these days. Perched beneath a big ol’ floppy straw hat and a generously-sized Hawaiian shirt, he sits down when he plays guitar and lets a chorus pedal do all the heavy lifting. These days his voice sounds like he swallowed an alligator and washed it down with gasoline. Which was just fine with the capacity crowd of middle-aged Boomers who have turned to his music as soulful comfort food ever since his incendiary performance on the Rolling Stones’ Rock N’ Roll Circus, which, as it happens, aired locally on public television on the eve of his appearance at the Keswick, opening up for those beloved ambassadors from the barrio, Los Lobos. “I don’t know if anybody said anything but this is a folk show — maybe we’ll rock out later,” said the guitarist Cesar Rosas, from behind his trademark ever-present Ray Bans, as the headliners took the stage armed with array of traditional Mexican folk instruments — tiny acoustic guitars that look like they were left in the dryer too long and biggie-sized acoustic bass. The highlight of the folk set was “Chuco’s Cumbia” a three-part Spanglish charmer drawn from the band’s new blues-edged The Town And The City, which felt right at home next to “Saint Behind The Glass,” a gorgeous lullaby from the trippy 1992 album Kiko (which for all intents an purposes remains the Pet Sounds of Tex-Mex). And then, by request, they performed “Will The Wolf Survive,” the song that first brought the band to national prominence back in the early 80’s when they recorded for the punk label Slash. “So, you wanna rock n’ roll already?” said Rosas, when the song garnered an especially loud ovation, prompting the band to plug in the electric guitars. By the end, Mahal had joined Los Lobos on stage, shaking maracas and taking the lead vocals on barn-storming encores of “Sweet Home Chicago” and “Lucille.” “I met these cats up in Canada,” said the froggy-voiced Mahal. “We been brothers ever since — like family.”

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