Los Lobos: Kiko Live Review

On February 24, 2006, Los Lobos performed their album Kiko at the House of Blues in San Diego, CA. Kiko Live captures a sublime performance by the band in a stunning live interpretation of their most respected album.

The main feature is more than a simple concert, as it includes extensive interviews with almost everyone involved in the album’s production and genesis. Mostly known for their crossover hit of La Bamba, a cover of the Ritchie Valens’ Rock classic, Los Lobos have won multiple Grammies in a long and respected career.

Coming out of East Los Angeles, their music is a blend of several distinct genres, combining Rock, Blues, Country, Tex-Mex, and Folk into a potent stew. Kiko Live showcases their most critically acclaimed album, performed in its entirety years after Kiko was first released in 1992.

What this movie does is deftly combine a thorough documentary about the album and the band’s roots into the live concert. A veritable wealth of information is shared by the members of Los Lobos about each song on the album. Music lovers and hardcore fans will appreciate the in-depth answers revealing how songs were crafted in the studio from the key participants, including record producer Mitchell Froom. The band also delves into its history, starting with meeting in high school back in the 1970s.

The concert performance itself is great, as the band sounds sharp and lively. This is not a throwaway show tossed off by bored musicians, but a band at the peak of their powers. The documentary intercut between most songs does break up the flow of the concert a bit, but there is an option to watch the concert uninterrupted. Fans will lap up the stories and little anecdotes peppered into the film about the making of Kiko. Expect to learn new insights about its themes and the meaning behind certain songs.

1. Dream In Blue
2. Wake Up Dolores
3. Angels With Dirty Faces
4. That Train Don’t Stop Here
5. Kiko And The Lavender Moon
6. Saint Behind The Glass
7. Reva’s House
8. When The Circus Comes
9. Arizona Skies
10. Short Side Of Nothing
11. Two Janes
12. Wicked Rain
13. Whiskey Trail
14. Just A Man
15. Peace
16. Rio De Tenampa

Movie ★★★★☆

Kiko Live is a schizophrenic film in terms of picture quality, as it alternates between the crisp digital video of the concert footage, to the plain upscaled material of the interviews and vignettes discussing the album itself. The film runs a total of 107 minutes and is encoded in AVC at sub-par video parameters, as the encode rarely leaves the teens in terms of bitrates. The entire feature is presented in 1.78:1 at 1080p, even the segments from SD sources.

It’s obvious the music was the first priority here and video took a backseat in the minds of producers. The concert was shot at the House Of Blues in San Diego, an indoor club venue. The band is featured on the stage under intense and multi-colored lighting. Video largely consists of wide band shots interspersed with tight close-ups of the musicians singing and performing. There are few audience reaction shots, probably a smart move as the few included look dreadful with camera noise. Contrast is largely fine but shadow detail is problematic for some of the side camera angles.

The concert footage is very sharp and detailed in close-ups, while wider shots are strangely soft and lacking resolution. It’s moderately clean video as digitally shot in HD, though it does not have the resolution or clarity of the best concerts on Blu-ray. The poor compression produces noticeable artifacts, particularly some posterization and banding as the lights and smoke swirl around the stage.

The non-concert footage, mostly interviews and behind the scenes material, looks much worse than the concert itself. Most of it is from an interlaced SD source, producing aliasing and halos as it has been upscaled to the feature’s 1080p resolution. The material is more suited for DVD than Blu-ray, with limited detail and poor contrast at times. The overall score reflects the concert footage more than the upscaled content of the documentary segments.

Video ★★★☆☆

The audio options for Kiko Live are impressive. The main soundtrack is a stunning 5.1 DTS-HD MA mix presented at 24-bit/96 kHz. A secondary option is a nice but plain stereo PCM soundtrack in 16-bit/48 kHz. The 5.1 presentation is a wonderful showcase for the music and live talents of Los Lobos. In a move hopefully emulated by other distributors, Shout Factory has also included a bonus CD of the concert in this package. That makes it very convenient to take in the car or on the go, when a Blu-ray player is likely not available.

Instruments are spread across the front three channels in a precise soundstage with pinpoint imaging.  The LFE channel thunders with bass, almost becoming bloated on occasion. It’s an overpowering soundtrack that carries a great deal of energy without clipping. The rear channels are mostly reserved for audience noise, though a smattering of musical cues come from the surrounds. Fidelity is perfect for a live event and sounds as clean as a studio recording. Every nuance and detail of the performance comes through in a realistic manner, from the excellent guitar playing to the smooth vocals.

A minor complaint are the drastic changes in volume that occur between the interview segments and the concert footage. The concert is a rocking affair with a dynamic and very loud sound. That noticeably changes when the film segues to the musically flat and lifeless interview segments, set much lower in volume. Viewers will likely have to ride their volume control when the film switches back and forth between the different types of material.

Audio ★★★★☆

Shout Factory has rounded out the disc with a tasteful selection of bonus features. Three bonus performances in HD are included: “Carabina 30-30”, “Volver, Volver”, and “La Bamba.” It’s very nice their most well-known song to casual fans, La Bamba, has been included as a bonus even though it was not on this album. On top of that, three extended and unseen interview segments are also featured that are 12 minutes in length.

Shout Factory has authored the disc in BD-Java, which does prevent BD players from resuming at a specific spot. There is a feature that allows one to watch the concert without the interviews, a great feature for the fans who will want to watch it again and again. That feature does have a slight problem with occasionally catching snippets of the interviews before a song will start. A bonus CD of the concert has been included for convenience, a nice touch.

Extras ★★★☆☆