Note to McCallum Theatre security: Chill. Raul Malo’s got this.
Mavericks fans are going to dance in the aisles, in front of the stage and at their seats, but it’s OK. Malo and the Mavericks fly their fans a kite, effortlessly, instinctively and joyfully. Safe landing guaranteed.
Cliques of stylish professional women; two- or three-generation families; aging braided and beaded hippies; loving couples of all ages and genders; folks in cowboy hats, party dresses, wheelchairs and low-slung pants with oversized shirts—they all dance and cheer like it’s their birthday. They’re having that much fun.
Many discovered the Mavericks as a country band, touring with the likes of Tim McGraw and Alan Jackson, and acting as the house band for Johnny Cash specials. The band’s 1994 album What a Crying Shame showcased singer and songwriter Malo’s fluid Elvis Presley-meets-Roy Orbison vocals in a gleaming Nashville-slick production of honky-tonk dance tunes, seminal Nashville pop and a throwback dollop of ’50s Sun Studios style. Every track was poised to be a country-radio hit.
But the Mavericks had also toured with Mary Chapin Carpenter and the Dave Matthews Band. Founding drummer Paul Deakin said in an interview with the Independent that he’s always considered the band to be multi-genre. With the release of Trampoline in 1998, the band seemed to prove their breadth, pushing new boundaries and integrating more of the pan-Latin influences they grew up with together in Miami.
Alas, industry forces had begun to work in the opposite direction. Radio was being Balkanized into ever-more genre-specific playlists pitched perfectly to defined market segments. Suddenly, there was no airtime to be had for an album that covered so much ground as Trampoline. The release tanked in the U.S., and effectively ended their country-music career.
Ironically, it turned out to be their most popular album of all time: Europe went wild.
“It was our biggest-selling record per capita, ever,” Deakin said. “There’s a song on there called ‘Dance the Night Away.’ It was huge! It was No. 1 in the U.K.”
As that one track broke, Deakin said, the Mavericks went from playing for a few thousand people at Shepherd’s Bush Empire, to selling out six nights in a row at Royal Albert Hall.
Apart from a live album in 1998, and a brief reunion in 2003-2004, The Mavericks weren’t heard from again for more than a decade. Members worked on side projects, and Malo enjoyed a successful solo career, delivering five albums of mostly new material. He was also a featured member of Los Super Seven, a super-group including members of the Texas Tornados, Los Lobos, Ozomatli and Calexico, among others.
Then one day, Malo called Deakin for a dinner meeting. “Someone who had worked with the band and Raul before said, ‘Let’s put together 30 dates,’” Deakin said, including the 2012 Stagecoach festival. “At the time, Raul had a batch of songs that he started feeling were Mavericks-oriented. So there was that, and incessant comments from his fans: ‘When are the Mavericks going to get back together?’ He said he thought it would go away, but it didn’t. So that had a lot to do with it. He called it kind of a perfect storm.”
According to Deakin, Malo had some reservations about the revival being perceived as a cash-in tour. He thought the band should have a new record, and in fact, he’d scored the deal to make it before he’d picked up the phone. “So before we ever played a note (in concert), we went right into the studio and made (In Time),” Deakin said. “Luckily, we had a label (Valory), and the president of the label said, ‘Please go and make the record you want to make, and we’ll put it out. We’ll figure out where it’s gonna fit after the fact.’
“And in my opinion, it’s one of the best ones we’ve made.”
Critics and fans agree. “We were just talking about this,” Deakin said. “The shows that we’re putting on, the press this record has garnered … I see us heading toward more of a lifestyle-type band, which is wonderful, because it’s not genre-specific.”
The Mavericks’ live show provides plenty of opportunities to get to know the music from In Time, which was released on Feb. 26: It’s rich with horns, plaintive accordion parts, soulful keyboards (calling to mind a Hammond B3) and irresistibly danceable polyrhythms. But the set is also chockablock with selections from the throughout the band’s career, and fan favorites like “Dance the Night Away,” “Here Comes the Rain” and “What a Crying Shame.” There are also sing-along covers like “Guantanamera” and a short acoustic set from Malo’s solo work. A recent set list even included “Sweet Dreams (Of You),” on which tenor Malo is Patsy Cline’s undisputed heir.
But The Mavericks’ greatest crowd-pleaser is not so much a song but an aura. Malo is as compelling and charismatic a presence as Frank Sinatra, and he keeps the crowd in the palm of his hand as he leads his merry band of insanely proficient musicians through fields of fun that let every one of them shine.
“We’ve always been that kind of band,” Deakin said. “Kind of pleasing ourselves and having fun, and having that come through.”
The Mavericks play at 7 p.m., Wednesday, March 27, at the McCallum Theatre, 73000 Fred Waring Drive, Palm Desert. Tickets are $25 to $55. For tickets or more information, call 340-2787, or visit www.mccallumtheatre.com. To see a set list from The Mavericks’ recent show in Tucson, Ariz., go here.