IN TUNE: As if the return of the Mavericks wasn’t enough, Rodney Crowell joined them onstage midset at the Bowery Ballroom last night for a touching rendition of his exquisite “Til I Gain Control Again.”
It was a heart-twisting interlude amid a set full of the kind of jukebox-shakin’, rump-rollin’ rock and blues that few party bands rarely approach.
In fact, you wouldn’t have known it was Monday night — not the way the full house roared and stomped and danced the night away.
The Mavs planned to open with “Fool #1,” but a stagehand replaced the band members’ setlist copies just before they emerged and launched into “Back in Your Arms Again” – a sweet opener for their first NYC gig in a decade.
They’re a nine-piece for this round, big as the E Street Band, and complete with the multi-talented Michael Guerra (lead singer Raul Malo’s personal accompanist) on accordion, a two-piece horn section, co-founding rhythm unit Robert Reynolds (bass) and Paul Deakin (drums), as well as a man of both flash AND substance, Ed “Mr. Eddie” Perez, playing the smoothest lead guitar — and sporting a scarf, a pocket hankie and a pair of sparkling loafers.
Malo has spent the better part of the past 10 years doing solo gigs, usually with Guerra. And while the Christmas shows and snuggly date nights are always a delight — filled with popular music standards and catcalled requests – the Cuban-born crooner becomes larger than life with as tight and hot a troupe as there’s been in our time.
You’d never have suspected that the split was particularly bitter for him.
But here they are again – crisp and generous and reliable as ever.
Last night’s visit coincides with today’s release of the multicultural ensemble’s reunion CD, “In Time,” which comes complete with a ready-made, vintage-style hit, “Born to Be Blue.”
There’s a CD release party with the band tonight at City Winery, which Malo said will include a performance that will begin and end when they feel like it. He couldn’t guarantee the quality, he said, given that he plans to already be half in the bag an hour before the show’s scheduled 11 p.m. start.
They may not have achieved the commercial success of several lesser country acts – then again, the Mavericks stopped being a country band about the time Raul began growing his beard.
Nor have they been hailed anywhere as the second coming of Los Lobos – which is good, because there’s a lot more than Tejano and Tex-Mex to their sound.
Still, the Mavs have snatched up several Grammys for albums that have gone platinum, and put more than a dozen singles on the country charts.
What would be nice, they must think, is for those who might have missed them the first time around, or those just catching a listen, to join the faithful among us who’ve been waiting for that Bat signal to flash once more.
In case there was any doubt, the Mavericks were tight as a snare from the jump last night. They clearly still enjoy one another, the rowdy crowds – and the music itself.
There were plenty of favorites (“There Goes My Heart,” “Dance the Night Away,” etc.), along with the new material, which together produced more show-stoppers than an Andrew Lloyd Webber production. “Come Unto Me” gave Perez a chance to hug the top strings, spaghetti-western style, while “What a Crying Shame” offered Malo a Roy Orbison-like moment of transcendence above the group dynamic.
Yet the one that nearly blew everyone out onto Kenmare Street was “As Long As There’s Lovin’ Tonight.” Each instrumentalist took a turn, the intensity rising along with the volume – if only to be heard over the screams of the crowd.
And speaking of instruments: Quibble if you will, but for some (me included), Malo has the finest pipes in popular music since Orbison.
Still, he’s an entertainer as well as a tenor: He’s has always been funny, in a very cynical but endearing way, but Malo’s an even bigger kick with a guitar on his back, or maracas in his hands — or both — as he shimmies and shakes in time, or trades licks with Mr. Eddie.
Having Crowell come on was special for the one-time music-store clerk Malo, as well as for Reynolds and Deakin, who knew the singer-songwriter’s singer songwriter when they formed the Mavericks in Miami in 1989.
To have a living legend who stands somewhere between Guy Clark, Townes Van Zandt and Emmy Lou Harris show up was just as special for some of us, as well (As fate would have it, Crowell and Harris are releasing their own album today, too, titled “Old Yellow Moon”).
The Mavericks have always had a sense of musical history, and they treat it reverently. It was tough to tell who was enjoying Crowell’s duet with Malo the most – Crowell, the audience or the Mavericks themselves.