The Mavericks never quite fit in with the typical class of Nashville hat acts. Rising to prominence in the mid-90's amongst a crop of skin-tight denim clad dudes sporting massive hats, the one-time Miami-based band made quite a splash despite not looking the part of Music City's favorite sons.Led by Cuban-American powerhouse singer Raul Malo, the band has retained quite a loyal fan base throughout the years and a pair of sold out shows last week (Wednesday and Friday, respectively) at the gorgeous, recently revamped Capitol Theatre in downtown Clearwater more than proved the fervor their fans still feel for them. [Text by Gabe, photos by Kevin.]
Opening Wednesday night's show promptly at 8 (and without the aid of an opening act), the band's newly-expanded model filled every inch of the jam-packed venue with a glorious sound from a pitch black stage. Pumping out the opening chords of "Tell Me Why" from 1998 album Trampoline to get the long night off to a rousing start, The Mavericks, with the aid of a horn section, additional guitarists, a stand-up bass, and long-time charismatic keyboard player Jerry Dale McFadden, instantly transformed the Capitol to a joyous room of great music and great vibes.Boasting a fuller and more focused sound, the band was able to add layers of depth and beauty to their already stunning blend of country, rock, western swing and Tex Mex, and the music more than benefited from the remodeled theater's clear and crisp acoustics.
Clad in solid black (from his hat to his boots), Malo coolly and quietly let his soaring, flawless baritone vocals speak for him. Hopscotching through selections from their many albums, the band continued to thrill and elate a loud, appreciative, if mostly-seated crowd. Malo must have felt the tension and, specifically, those who were itching to stand up and make a dance party of the night. All it took was Raul's suggestion that it was okay to enjoy the music, and by the time the band launched into "From Hell to Paradise," the title track from their 1992 album, a significant portion of those in attendance were up and dancing...and most others followed.
In one of his few lengthy discourses, Malo took the time to half-jokingly chastise a woman firmly seated front row center for knitting as the concert progressed. "I've seen lots of people do a lot of weird things in the front row...lots of unnameable things...but I've never seen anyone knitting in the front row of a concert" he said in quasi-amazement. A funny moment indeed but seriously ... knitting? Luckily the chastised woman was the only one in the house who brought yarn and needles with her on this night; everyone else was there for the music and boy did they get more than they'd probably imagined.
"Here Comes The Rain," a standout cut from 1995's Music From All Occasions, sounded positively gorgeous thanks to the rich five-part vocal harmonies various band members provided and some pretty fancy 12-string guitar work courtesy of the rambunctious newest Maverick, lead axeman Eddie Perez. The shimmering beauty of the tune and the purity with which is was delivered brought to mind the music of another one of Florida's own — Tom Petty.
A brief interlude to wish longtime guitarist Robert Reynolds a happy birthday and offer an amusing story detailing an opening slot for a Marilyn Manson show back in the early days added to the frivolity and the positive energy of the evening.
Aside from the Mavericks' rich catalog, there were plenty of smartly-chosen covers to polish off as well. From a downright faithful version of Merle Haggard's classic "Okie from Muskogee" to a back-to-back Bruce Springsteen/KC and the Sunshine Band two-fer, The Mavericks more than showcased their ability to dazzle and win over a crowd with the greatest of ease and a heavy dose of great, danceable music and devil-may-care attitude.
In a shifting of gears, Malo took the stage alone for a pair of encores featuring his haunting voice and a gorgeous twangy hollow-bodied Gretsch guitar. He delivered gut-wrenching, note-perfect renditions of "The Wonder of You" (popularized by Elvis Presley) and Patsy Cline's "Sweet Dreams." Alone or with the aid of his rousing band, Raul Malo is a captivating crooner either way.
As the long night of solid music drew to a close (two-and-a-half hours later), the group launched into a positively giddy version of "All You Ever Do Is Bring Me Down," an organ-driven Tex Mex barn burner that recalls the heyday of Lone Star state legend Doug Sahm of "She's About a Mover" fame.
By this time, all seats were vacant and the aisles were packed with frantic dancing, laughing, giggling and enjoyment. And no knitting.
Although it had been many years since The Mavericks had graced a Tampa Bay stage, based on the reaction they received and the need to add an additional show to meet the demand, I have a feeling it won't be long before they treat local fans to more of their unique blend of great music and good fun.