The Mavericks Bring It All Back Home: Concert Review

RAUL MALO Performing - H 2014
Michael Mariant/Invision/AP

RAUL MALO Performing - H 2014

Country-rock vets return to their Latino roots with wide-ranging homecoming south Florida show celebrating a quarter-century as a band.

Country-rock vets return to their Latino roots with wide-ranging homecoming south Florida show celebrating a quarter-century as a band.

Raul Malo, all in black and soaked with sweat, stood alone. Using his acoustic guitar more for percussion, he delivered the haunting “Siboney,” a Cuban song  from his Grammy-winning Los Super Sevens collaboration with such yearning in his velour- and tobacco-leaf voice, it packed a Gabriel Garcia Marquez thrill of sensual charge to the non-Spanish speakers in the Parker Playhouse.

An hour and 45 minutes into a muscular and rhythmically churning show, it might have played as the resolving wind-down to a set that moved from caliente to mambo, juke joint to vintage weeper. The Mavericks, returning to their South Florida home after a decade, arrived on a wave of brio and musicality that defied production tricks, synthetic hooks and dumbed-down aesthetics that made his solo acoustic turn – which also saw Patsy Cline’s “Sweet Dreams” rendered with rafter-caressing vocalese – just one more color in a technicolor palette of musical topography.

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From the moment the band – featuring an upright bass and a Cuban accordionist –- took the stage, it was obvious they came to play. With a long murky instrumental lacerated by Eddie Perez’s electric guitar and slathered with trumpet and saxophone, the Mavericks declared post-modern country’s hybridization with the opening “Tell Me Why.”

By “Back in Your Arms,” the set’s third song, the audience of remember-when punk scenesters and NPR devotees were up and dancing as the beat rippled and the band pushed the shuffle’s undertow to the brink. Even “There Goes My Heart,” a Top 10 country hit, was transformed into a stratospheric topple by virtue of drummer Paul Deakin’s precise heartbeat rhythms and Malo’s wide-open romanticism.

Six songs into a set built on playing, rhythms and the exuberance of keyboardist Jerry Dale McFadden’s Pee-wee Herman-meets-Cab Calloway crazy dancing, Malo finally addressed the near-capacity crowd in the historic playhouse that hosted Elizabeth Taylor, Maureen Stapleton and James Earl Jones for legit theatrical productions. Acknowledging, “It’s been a long time... and we’re celebrating 25 years as a band, many late nights at [local haunts] the Cactus Cantina and Churchills. We’ve dusted off some old songs for tonight.”

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“From Hell to Paradise,” the title track of their MCA Nashville debut, was simpler than much of their later material, but its innocence evoked a less forceful Creedence Clearwater Revival. Later, Malo would tell about opening for then-local rockers Marilyn Manson – “Sure, we’ll open for her” – in the ‘What were we thinking’ category, and explained, “We’d play anything in front of anyone anywhere” as the band descended into a girthy take on Merle Haggard’s “Okie from Muskogee,” complete with ‘70s country mariachi horn flourishes.

Also bowing to local color, following Malo’s acoustic interlude, the band did the unthinkable: rising from a torrid rendition of Bruce Springsteen’s “All That Heaven Will Allow” – complete with a humid sax solo that eroticized Clarence Clemons’ best work -- into a brassy take on local icons KC & the Sunshine Band’s seminal “Boogie Shoes.” With a brazen bravado, the disco classic engorged and swung the crowd into an odd sort of elation.

Imaginative to the almost unthinkable, it showed the Mavericks’ moxie. When they follow that with the Ravel-evoking “Come Unto Me,” toreador vocal rising and exhorting the woman over a tango beat, the build was nearly relentless. Snake-hipped and moaning, Malo created a volcanic surge as his electric guitar and Perez’ merged into a hornet’s nest of tone.

When the song culminated, the crowd cheered, spent and delirious. Well over two hours into the show, there was only one way to close out the night. Brandishing “All You Ever Do Is Bring Me Down,” their percolating #1 country hit, the band found a loose groove and deeper pocket. trampolining the crowd back to rapture one more time.

Awash in the glow of how transcendent music can be, and the power of exemplary musicianship applied across a broad spectrum of genres, the Mavericks came home a quarter of century later. An unlikely cow-punk band that found favor on mainstream country radio, they refused to chase trends to stay relevant in the genre – instead creating a musical worldview as zesty and fulfilling as it is entertaining.

At a time when conjured acts dominate actual musicianship, seeing a band in full rut is perhaps the most combustive commodity of all. One night in an old theatre in South Florida, the Mavericks brought that home with a bang.

Set list:

Tell Me Why
The Things You Said To Me
Back in Your Arms
All Over Again
There Goes My Heart
Here Comes the Rain
Sinners and Saints
Missing You
Okie from Muskogee (Merle Haggard cover)
From Hell to Paradise
Every Little Thing
Fall Apart
La Bamba/Dance in the Moonlight
As Long as There's Loving Tonight


Siboney (Lecuona Cuban Boys cover)
Sweet Dreams (Patsy Cline cover)
Around the World
O What a Thrill
What a Crying Shame
Dance the Night Away
All That Heaven Will Allow (Bruce Springsteen cover)
Boogie Shoes (KC and The Sunshine Band cover)
Come Unto Me
Bring Me Down