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Live From Birmingham: The Mavericks, Hawkwind, Focus & The Handsome Family

Live From Birmingham: The Mavericks, Hawkwind, Focus & The Handsome Family
Martin Longley By

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The Mavericks
Symphony Hall
March 1, 2015

Perhaps The Mavericks should be worried about their audience demographic. At least when they're hitting Birmingham. It's unusual for most of a band's followers to be older than the players themselves, but this seemed to be the case at their almost-sold out Symphony Hall gig. It's a shame that Mavericks music doesn't pull in folks who are in their twenties, thirties, or even too many in their forties. The audience seemed to possess quite a limited clan-character, considering the broad swathes of the band's musical influences. Yes, some Mavericks songs inhabit an almost easy listening stratosphere, but there are just as many that rock out with duelling guitar serrations, heading closer towards the strewn wreckage-fields of Neil Young & Crazy Horse.

Difficult to categorise, Mavericks records mostly seem to reside in the country bins, which might account for the mellow, mainstream-ey emanations from the crowd. Miami is a strange breeding ground for this kind of outfit, so in actuality, the songs flit about madly, snatching licks and tics from rock'n'roll, blues, ska, Mexican, South American, reggae, rockabilly, surf, Cuban and lounge listening. Roy Orbison is always haunting Raul Malo's vocal delivery, soaring emotively, ringing with inner reverb. For around a decade, he's chosen a solo path, frequently with impressive results artistically, if not in terms of sales and profile, when compared to that of this original combo. Since 2012, the old Mavericks crew were called back together, and have already issued a pair of strong albums on the Big Machine label.

The Mavericks are at the peak of their powers, divergent leaves meshed into a magnificent, multi-hued popular music compendium. They exude the essence of optimistic entertainment, perfumed with a deep knowledge of American music genres, refried in the songwriting mind of Malo. They tread close to the line of kitsch, but bear bountiful baskets of emotional resonance. Harmony vocals from most of the band members heighten these vibrations. Co-founder and drummer Paul Deakin ceaselessly dominated from his riser, making his kit look tiny as he battered it in the name of propellant springiness. His energy didn't abate during the nearly two-and-a-half-hour set. Ninety minutes in, the band vacated the stage. This was either a toilet break, or the prelude to an almost hour-long encore. The majority of the numbers were upbeat rollers, torched harder and faster by the horn section twosome of trumpet and saxophone. The other augmentations of the core quartet were a bull fiddler and an accordionist who tripled on acoustic guitar and percussion. The hall's sonic spread was without fault: crisply loud, fully punching, with all subtleties sharply limned.

Malo occasionally chose acoustic guitar, but this didn't impede his momentum, used as it was for aggressive strumming. There was a surprising amount of soloing dialogue with supposed lead guitarist Eddie Perez, the pair of them vying for the most extreme razoring arpeggios, taking climaxes ever higher, towards trebly shimmering. Alternatively, Malo was fond of the deep-toned twang, on some of the ballads that provided brief calm amidst all the partying singalongs and quick-fluttering heartache tempi. "Pardon Me," from the new album was prime amongst these. Jerry Dale McFadden switched between piano and organ sounds, when he wasn't cavorting across the stage in the manner of Pee Wee Herman. During the course of this long set there were few dips and many exultant highs, not least some of the new songs, such as "All Night Long," or placed near set's end, "(Waiting For) The World To End," an example of their ska flirtation, words changed to 'waiting for the song to end,' then metamorphosing into 'waiting for the show to end,' throwing in yet another influence, this time a doggedly Steve Reichian repetition. Meanwhile, "Come Unto Me," from 2013's In Time album, is a monumental song, providing a level of intense climaxing only rarely attained onstage. An epic twanging shout of proud melancholia, with a Tex-Mex accordion and ear-splitting trumpet to boot!

Hawkwind/Focus
Wolverhampton Wulfrun Hall
March 6, 2015

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