How often do you get to hear a band as big as Los Lobos in a club as small as the Triple Door? Three times, it turns out. The band played a spectacular two-hour set Thursday, March 19, writes critic Charles R. Cross, and continues through Saturday, March 21.

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It’s rare to see a band of the caliber of Los Lobos in a club the size of Seattle’s Triple Door, where they played the first of three shows Thursday. Then again, it’s rare to see a band of the caliber of Los Lobos anywhere, because few rock bands match their level of musicianship in concert.

Over a 20-song set, the band played long improvisations, lively versions of hits and rare cover songs.

The audience, for its part, got a chance to see a band with a 35-year history stretch out like a storied jazz group might, finding new melodies within classics. And that sold-out crowd got a chance to see it all up close.

Additional performances

Los Lobos

8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, March 20-21, at the Triple Door, 216 Union St., Seattle; $75-$90 (206-838-4333 or thetripledoor.net).

“Are we too loud?” Cesar Rosas asked.

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The sound was spot-on, as if you’d been invited into the band’s East Los Angeles living room.

That comfort was most apparent on “Dream in Blue,” which has been one of the band’s centerpieces since it first appeared on the 1992 album “Kiko.” The song is three minutes on the album, but on Thursday it ran for nearly twelve, as each member took extended solos.

Los Lobos has toured with the Grateful Dead, and there are parallels in improvisational skill and the belief that a live performance should be something unique. So it was no surprise to hear the Dead’s “West L.A. Fadeaway,” one of the night’s highlights.

But Los Lobos’ jams hint at dozens of influences and diverse genres, including traditional Mexican folk music. On Thursday the diversity included a snippet of the Allman Brothers, plus lively covers of “Good Lovin’” and “Papa Was a Rolling Stone.”

This band is versatile because it sports three excellent guitar players — Rosas, David Hidalgo, and Louie Perez — and with multi-instrumentalist Steve Berlin on sax and keyboards, and the solid rhythm section of Conrad Lozano and Enrique Gonzalez, these guys can go anywhere. When Perez sang lead on Alejandro Escovedo’s “Rebel Kind,” the mood even turned toward rockabilly.

In total, it was a two and a half-hour show. And if that seemed too short for some fans, the best news is that their residency continues Friday and Saturday, March 20-21.