Many hearts and promises were broken over the course of the Mavericks’ hourlong set, but for Raul Malo, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Returning to the stage after a three-year hiatus, the Mavericks’ front man remains one of the best singers in the Roy Orbison tradition, a big, strong tenor singing songs of weak and wronged lovers. Like their recently released self-titled album on Sanctuary Records, the Mavericks’ live show both returns the band to prime, honky-tonk form and continues their uneven experiments in more far-flung pop forms.
New tunes such as “I Wanna Know” join “Think of Me (When You’re Lonely)” and “What a Crying Shame” in the Mavericks’ arsenal of classic country pop. With Paul Deakin’s simple, precise drumming leading the way (he’s as important to the Mavericks’ potency as Charlie Watts is to the Rolling Stones) and Eddie Perez’s acid-dipped lead guitar, the Mavericks are a flinty dance band. A three-piece horn section punctuates the tunes, adding touches of Memphis, Havana, New Orleans and London to the mix; in a witty touch, their charts re-create the backing vocals on a spirited cover of Elvis’ “Blue Christmas.”
But the Mavericks falter as the music moves further afield and de-emphasizes the rhythm section. The pure pop of “Would You Believe” works on record but turns mushy live. And Malo and Perez’s loungey, instrumental take of “Never on Sunday” feels self-indulgent. But Malo brings an aching sense of drama to the band’s cover of the Hollies’ “Air That I Breathe.”