Having bluffed their way (with the aid of MCA Records) onto country radio, the Miami-based Mavericks are continuously demonstrating that they transcend pretty much any category of popular music. With Raul Malo’s powerful, near-operatic voice (imagine Roy Orbison with some Elvis swagger), strong musical backing and a range of musical tastes that for many redefine “hip,” the band can do — and seemingly does — practically anything.
Friday night’s Greek Theater set, fairly typical for the group, ranged from hard country with a twist (Merle Haggard’s “The Bottle Let Me Down” done as a Louis Prima-styled Vegas lounge shuffle) to Latin material to real Vegas lounge music, in most cases buttressed by a four-main horn section.
Several original tunes, many of them the band’s hits, were scattered throughout, though some of the best known of those were saved as encores. The Mavericks have more on their agenda than bringing their records to the stage.
The group has so much fun, it’s sometimes hard to tell when — or if — they’re kidding. Early on, Malo performed Tom Jones’ signature “It’s Not Unusual,” faithfully and respectfully. But if that wasn’t camped up, how about the version, later on, of the Engelbert Humperdinck hit “A Man Without Love” — are they kidding, or what? If so, only by the context; the performance was straight-on.
The band’s treatment of its own songs was in many cases just as surprising and versatile: the Merseybeat-styled electric 12-string guitar on “What a Crying Shame,” the rousing faux-gospel “Save a Prayer,” a bluesy “Tell Me Why” that was more reminiscent of one of the kings of the blues than anything country (Nick Kane playing a Flying-V guitar for the number) or “Dolores,” sung through a megaphone, Rudy Vallee style.
Ringleaders Malo and bassist Robert Reynolds treated the Greek more like a bar than a concert hall: cracking wise, taking (quite a bit of) time to sign autographs and inviting a woman up from the crowd to help Malo when he “forgot” the lyrics to one of his newer songs.
The Derailers are a lot more single-minded musically than the Mavericks, specializing in largely original ma-terial with a ’50s and ’60s country sound. But the Austin-based Sire/Watermelon Records act had a trick or two to display as well, the best being what “Raspberry Beret” might have sounded like if composer Prince had grown up in Bakersfield in the ’40s and somehow hooked up with a funk bass player.