The Mavericks – that genre-blending country/rock/Latin/rockabilly/swing/Tex Mex band – are back in the saddle again, after an eight-year hiatus.
Boy, howdy, are they back!
Their new album, “In Time,” is a strong contender for comeback album of the year, and on the current tour they have added four musicians to the official five-man roster. The expanded lineup enables the band to recreate the full, rich sound of its studio albums, with spectacular results, ranging from subdued, nearly orchestral interludes to full-on dance hall numbers.
The centerpiece of the band is, of course, Raul Malo – or, more specifically, the stunning vocal prowess of Mr. Malo. His pitch-perfect tenor voice has that rare combination of sweetness, strength and emotion that inevitably draws comparisons to Roy Orbison. But, in truth, his tone, phrasing and clarity bring to mind any number of great operatic tenors. He even bears a vague, slightly less hefty, resemblance to the late Luciano Pavarotti. Regardless of who he brings to mind, hearing the man sing is a privilege and a pleasure.
In a pre-concert interview with writer Jon Bream in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Raul Malo noted that the reunited Mavericks are taking a much more businesslike approach to their work now, to the point of holding weekly group meetings. The businesslike attitude carried over to the stage, as it was nine songs into the set before Raul made his first off-the-cuff comments to the audience, other than a few obligatory thank-yous. This is not to say that the band lacked passion – far from it! – rather, they were fully focused and poured all their energy and emotion into the songs themselves. Save the chit-chat for later, boys; we’ve got a job to do!
The show opened with the first three tracks from the new album. “Back In Your Arms Again,” the bouncy, swinging opener, is classic Mavericks, an infectious melding of mariachi horns and reggae rhythms They had us in their sway right from jump street. From there, the band moved to the more uptempo “Lies,” with Eddie Perez switching to baritone guitar for the big, gut-bucket solos.
Perez was outstanding all night, changing instruments from the phalanx of guitars (and one ukulele) at stage right, to fit the mood and the song. Not only was his playing superb, but he provided complementary harmony vocals to Raul Malo’s lead.
Malo and The Mavericks channeled Roy Orbison on the following number, “Born To Be Blue,” an easygoing country song that featured the first of several accordion solos by Michael Guerra. Another mariachi/reggae mashup from the new album followed, with the Raul Malo/Al Anderson (formerly of NRBQ) collaboration, “All Over Again.” Malo stepped out for a solo on his Jazzmaster, Guerra took his turn on the squeezebox, and Perez followed with his own solo. By the end of the song, the band members were beaming at each other, huge smiles on their faces. Clearly, we weren’t the only ones having fun!
Three songs from The Mavericks’ 1994 release, “What A Crying Shame,” followed, including the flirty “Pretend,” (“You don’t have to love me, just pretend.”); the 50’s-style rock ‘n roll of “There Goes My Heart Again,” and the Byrds-like title track, with Eddie Perez doing a Roger McGuinn turn on the 12-string. “I’ve Got This Feeling,” from 1998’s “Trampoline” album evoked memories of Jay & The Americans, while “That’s Not My Name,” from the new album, seemed like an homage to 50’s teen heartthrobs like Bobby Vinton and Dion, with its casual references to “Mr. Lonely,” and “Runaround.” Malo switched to a nylon string classical guitar for the ballad “Oh What A Thrill,” leading into the uptempo “Every Little Thing,” featuring a blistering solo by Eddie Perez that earned him a much-deserved standing ovation.
Now, it was time to get the dance machine rolling, starting with the Tex-Mex, “Fall Apart,” followed by the Latin rhythm of “Dance In The Moonlight,” both of which included more stylish accordion work by Michael Guerra. The rockabilly-flavored “As Long As There’s Loving Tonight,” gave everyone a chance to step into the spotlight, starting with Jerry Dale McFadden’s Jerry Lee Lewis-like intro, and eventually including the two-man horn section. Everyone was up on their feet for the set-closer, “Dance The Night Away,” including one boisterous Boomer who leaped onto the stage, only to be politely but firmly persuaded to return to the floor by the security folks.
For the first encore (yes, there were two!), Raul Malo returned to the stage alone, with the nylon-stringed guitar, for two songs : the power ballad “Here Comes The Rain,” from the band’s 1995 release, “Music For All Occasions,” followed by an exquisite cover of Patsy Cline’s “Sweet Dreams.” The band returned for the gentle, samba-like “Amsterdam Moon,” then a couple more unexpected covers: the Sinatra father-daughter hit “Something Stupid,” done Latin-style (down to the cha-cha-cha ending), and the venerable Cuban folk song “Guantanamera,” with the whole audience shouting out the familiar chorus. “Guantanamera” segued into a raucous “Twist And Shout” and this encore set closed with the ska-happy “I Said I Love You.”
All the encore set did was whet the audience’s appetite for more, and more they got, in the second encore, the highlights of which were the first single from the new album, “Come Unto Me,” and the classic Texas Tornadoes sound of the Flaco Jimenez/Raul Malo composition, “All You Ever Do Is Bring Me Down.” Michael Guerra did his best Flaco impression and a beaming Raul Malo kept making circles overhead with his index finger, like a cowboy twirling a lasso, urging the band on for another repeat of the chorus.
As the band set down their instruments and gathered at the front of the stage to acknowledge the wild applause of the audience, Raul Malo pulled out a cell phone and took several photos of the crowd. It’s satisfying to know that, just as we music lovers cherish and preserve the experience of a memorable concert, the musicians themselves have similar feelings toward an appreciative audience. Chalk this one up as the best show of 2013 so far.