[Note: The Mavericks also play City Winery tonight at 10:30 p.m.]
Better Than: Pretty much all country music from the last decade.
Last night Miami country band The Mavericks played a sold-out, two-and-a-half-hour show at the Bowery Ballroom. It was a triumphant return to form on the eve of their first studio album in 10 years (In Time, out today).
Now for some context. Who are The Mavericks, and why does this metalhead care about them? In a word or three, The Mavericks are cool as shit. In the mid-90s, right before country music started becoming indistinguishable from pop music and mainstream rock with a twang, The Mavericks emerged with something few of their peers had: understated, ultra-modern style. Their look and their music were simple: neo-50s rock ‘n’ roll with Latin and Cajun spices (think Ritchie Valens). And they were killer live. Their records sold by the millions and won awards, including a Grammy in 1995. But after 2003, they split up and all but disappeared, save for some solo records by lead singer Raul Malo.
All this is to say that last night there were some very happy fans thrilled to see these guys reunited. The crowd was mostly middle-aged, but that didn’t stop the smell of ganja from wafting through the air at the top of the set. (Who’da thunk?)
The band is officially a five-piece, but there were nine guys onstage. Additional Mavericks included a virtuosic two-piece horn section, an upright bass, and an accordion. (If ever accordion solos could be deemed “siiiiick,” this would be that time.) Notably, there was not a single cowboy hat onstage. There was a top hat, a Western-looking fedora, an actual fedora, and a beret. Like I said: style.
Malo’s tenor voice, frequently compared to Roy Orbison’s, was in fine form. It seems to have become more expressive with age. Unlike many, many singers, he is always dead on pitch–never sharp or flat. His acoustic solo cover of Patsy Cline’s “Sweet Dreams” was a highlight, as was hearing him perform the Grammy-winning “Here Comes the Rain,” a gem of perfect songwriting, by himself.
The band was all grins throughout the seemingly endless set. (“We always prided ourselves on being a great bar band,” joked Malo. “We’re still a great bar band.”) Keyboardist Jerry Dale McFaddan is a joy to watch: he breaks out dance moves that would be impressive even if he weren’t playing keys simultaneously, paying tribute to boogie-woogie and Jerry Lee Lewis with panache. Country crooner Rodney Crowell made a guest appearance (his album with Emmylou Harris drops today, as well).
New songs like “Back In Your Arms Again” and “Fall Apart” blend together the classic simplicity of older Mavericks tunes while bringing in their newer Latin flavors in a way that’s more seamless than anything they’ve done before. Elements that might have seemed collaged together on Music For All Occasions and Trampoline–rockabilly meets zydeco, for instance–are now cohesive. As a mature band, The Mavericks have locked in their signature sound.
And they’re still killer live.
Overheard: Heckling Fan: “Play something good, Raul!” Malo: “I will put down this guitar and whip your ass. Celebrate the release of this record in jail.”
Critical Bias: I saw The Mavericks open for Mary Chapin Carpenter at the Houston Rodeo circa 1995, age 13ish. I’ve been a fan ever since. What A Crying Shame is one of my favorite albums ever, in any genre.
Random Notebook Dump: Shout out to Earl and Maria, friends for 30 years and “not an item.” Thanks for keeping an eye on my chair.