LOS LOBOS DIGS DEEP, LETS LOOSE AT PARADISE

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They identify themselves with their home in East Los Angeles, but Los Lobos are more like a universe than a neighborhood: They've been around forever, and they're still expanding.

Wednesday night at the Paradise, they took an intense and steamy two-hour-plus tour through better than 15 years of their music and beyond.

Whatever direction they chose to go - old or new, dense or light, smoky or snaky - it was the right one, and even after two encores, the crowd's cry was, "Where to next?"

As expected, the band reserved its deepest explorations for material from its new album, "Good Morning Aztlan," most successfully during a pairing of "Malaque" and "Maria Christina." The former was enriched by Steve Berlin's nuanced flute, which lent a hint of Peru with its evocation of the pan flute. That southerly suggestion began with the song's first notes, emerging from Louie Perez's jarana, a small, guitarlike instrument native to Mexico.

Though the two songs were spanned solely by Cesar Rosas's guitar, it was Perez's electric solo that stood out during "Maria Christina." Perez at one time was the drummer but was front and center in the band's five-across front line most of the show. His evolution and versatility are prime evidence that the band, though fabulously entertaining, has plenty left to discover.

After a lilting "Luz De Mi Vida," Perez retired to the drum kit for a pairing of a different sort, "Angels With Dirty Faces" and "Peace" from the 1992 album "Kiko." The former built deliberately to cacophony, led by Los Lobos guitarist David Hidalgo. The rendering of "Peace" was hypnotic, clangy in the beginning before building again on the backs of Rosas's and Hidalgo's guitars.

You could say it was the highlight of a show that was filled with highlights. There was local boomer Barrance Whitfield's joining for three songs in the first encore, opening with his primal scream version of "My Generation," dedicated to roots music champion Alan Lomax and Who bassist John Entwistle. And there was the stage- crowding unification of opening act Quetzal and Los Lobos for "Cumbia Raza," whose eye-opening feature was a thrill-inducing guitar solo by young Ray Sandoval.

Onstage with Los Lobos, Quetzal shined brightly. But in its hourlong set, which started slowly before catching the interest of the crowd as it filtered in, it was just another band from East LA.