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Review: Los Lonely Boys start late, then lay on the cliches

Once again, the armies of lawn-chair-wielding blues nuts have descended upon Bayfront Festival Park. The 26th annual Bayfront Blues Festival got underway Friday, and the first night’s headliner, the Grammy-winning Los Lonely Boys, was much-anticipated.

The band, comprised of three brothers from San Angelo, Texas, plays a melange of styles they call “Texican rock ’n’ roll.” They’ve collaborated with Carlos Santana and Willie Nelson, and they’ve spent time on the Billboard charts. They’re a pretty good catch for the Bluesfest, to be sure.

But the show wasn’t so great. To start with, the band didn’t get onstage until 15 minutes after their scheduled start time, and the crowd got a bit restless sitting there listening to the group’s roadies doing feedback experiments. Just before the band finally took the stage, sections of the crowd began whistling impatiently, if there is such a thing.

When the band finally got up and plugged in, they randomly noodled, hit drums, tweaked knobs, and basically squandered their opportunity to come out swinging. “Que pasa, Duluth?” they asked. The crowd cheered. The band thanked the Lord for letting them do what they do. And then they began to play, wandering into what seemed like a jam.

“Are you feelin’ good?” guitarist Henry Garza sang. “Are you feelin’ good?” bassist Jojo Garza sang. After they each had sung this line about five times each, Jojo finally prodded the audience for an actual response to his question, which had seemed rhetorical until he pressed the issue.

The jam morphed a little as it went on. There was some funk bass slappin’ and poppin’, some stolen Stevie Ray Vaughan licks, a section where the band repeated “Get on up!” like they were trying to do a James Brown thing, a repeated sung part by Jojo where he asserted that he was “the man,” and then there was a bass solo, some more Vaughan licks, and, for some reason, the riff from “Sunshine of Your Love” by Cream.

This went on for about 15 minutes. It was fairly irritating. There’s nothing wrong with jamming, with easing into a set, but a festival setting is probably a bad place to open with a Whitman’s Sampler of cliches. The crowd, weirdly divided into three sections – people standing and dancing on both sides of the stage, while the middle was all stone-still folks in chairs – seemed fairly indifferent.

When the band broke into their more standard material, they got better in certain regards and worse in others. “Man to Beat” saw Henry taking more Vaughan solos while his waist-length hair and white dress shirt billowed and flowed all around him, and subsequent songs approximated Santana’s “smooth”-era sound or John Mellencamp’s later work. It all sounded very radio-friendly and not very bluesy, save the guitar playing. “Give a Little More” found the band singing insipid lyrics like “It’s all about what’s inside / You’ve got the will to survive” with straight faces, and then they went into a horrible tune where they sang the word “sensual” over and over.

Los Lonely Boys are all excellent musicians, but their slickness and inability to write a song that doesn’t hinge on hoary cliches and empty rhymes sinks them. “Let’s get lonely, now!” Henry shouted, at one point, before he broke into a solo. Why would we do that?

Stray observation: The gigantic advertisements on either side of the stage and in the back of it were incredibly distracting. It’s one thing to have Miller Lite and Pepsi ads all around the park, but why do paying customers have to look at blazing-white, spotlight-lit corporate logos while they’re trying to relax and enjoy some bands? It marginalizes the ability of artists to own the stage, to capture the moment. Money makes the ship sail – that’s understood – but forcefully jamming giant logos into the eyes of thousands of people who just want to appreciate live music is tacky and intrusive.

Tony Bennett writes music reviews for the News Tribune.