Midway through their show at Old Town School of Folk, Marc Ribot turned to the audience, gestured to David Hidalgo, and said, “If it seems like we’re just two guys jamming up here…it’s because we are.” And so they were.
Over the years, the two old friends have linked up for various performances at festivals and venues around the country. Both musicians have similarly prolific resumes – Hidalgo, of Los Lobos and Latin Playboys fame, is a beautiful guitarist and vocalist. His meshing of traditional Latin music with rock, punk, and blues has made him a sought after musician in the past few decades. Ribot, outside of his solo guitar work, boasts an impressive history of diverse musical partners: Elvis Costello, Tom Waits, and Alison Krauss, to name a few. What particularly links the two is their vast musical knowledge and ability.
Their show at Old School was an intimate look at two musicians who are considered legendary in their circles. Though they frequently play with a band, this set was stripped down. Each guitarist brought with him an array of stringed instruments, including a miniature acoustic bass. When they walked onstage – after an amusing gap between being welcomed and actually exiting the wings – they began their set with a Los Lobos song, Hidalgo singing in beautiful Spanish. His voice, even after years of use, is still as full and warm as ever. The second song featured Ribot singing in a deep and somewhat off-key baritone. You can tell he was once a punk-rocker. Though it’s clear the man is not a technical singer, his story-telling ability and incredible musicianship carries him.
Their set was filled with an eclectic variety of songs, from their own past music to covers of MC5 and re-workings of famous Woody Guthrie songs. As the set progressed, the musicians played off of each other’s energy, often improvising a cover on the spot. They joked and they smiled, telling intricate stories about how some of the songs came to be. They played Latin ballads, Ribot making fun of his own Spanish, and they played energetic versions of Los Lobos songs. Ribot, known for his political activism, shared a beautiful and haunting reworking of “a quite old song,” speaking rather plainly about the current state of politics.
They closed their encore with an energetic version of “My Baby Does the Hanky Panky,” the classic Tommy James & the Shondells song. Though the pair didn’t necessarily seem the most rehearsed, their was a genuineness to the set. It didn’t matter if they were “just jamming,” because their musical prowess shone through. A shared history is present between the two, and they communicate onstage the way the best musicians do: with the smallest glance, and the occasional laugh.