Raul Malo

Raul Malo

They bobbed their heads, swayed their hips, shook their booties, tapped their toes and stomped their feet. Some people even twisted the night away. Never have you seen a theater full of AARP-eligible Minnesotans dance so much for two hours as they did Saturday night at the State Theatre.

It was a concert by the Mavericks, America’s best dance band. The State Theatre isn’t the best place to dance to a band. It isn’t even the best place to listen to a band. The Mavericks have sounded better in their three performances at the Pantages Theatre and last summer at the Minnesota Zoo. On Saturday, it was difficult to hear Eddie Perez’s hot guitar licks.

But the hot, hot, hot rhythms kept the capacity crowd dancing, and Raul Malo had folks swooning to his romantic vocals. He has never been in better voice in the Twin Cities with the Mavericks.

Looking like Pavarotti in a wide-brimmed fedora and Cuban shirt, Malo unleashed his Orbisonesque voice on song after song. The Mavericks specialize in original material rendered in pre-Beatles sounds, a mashup of Tex-Mex, lounge jazz, jump blues, Latin, country, folk, swing, rock and rockabilly.

But it was Malo’s interpretations of songs associated with others that were the brightest of many highlights.

His rendition of Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon” was more gorgeous than Young’s original if only because Malo has a brawnier, more honey-toned voice. A lonely, melancholy sax solo was sublime, but when Malo crooned “mooooooon” with closed eyes on the final refrain, couples just melted into each other’s arms on this slow dance.

The other stand-out song was one that Willie Nelson requested Malo sing when the country legend was honored with the Gershwin Prize at the Library of Congress in November. Malo told about how Willie summoned Malo and country singer Jamey Johnson into a room that night at the Library of Congress to smoke a joint.

“When Willie hands you drugs, you do them,” Malo explained. He also mentioned that the Secret Service passed by, noticed a particular odor and explained, “Wherever Willie goes, it’s legal.”  

Anywho, Willie asked that Malo sing “Crazy,” his composition that became a smash for Patsy Cline in 1961. So on Saturday, Malo did “Crazy” solo, accompanying himself on a weathered acoustic guitar that, like Willie’s, has an unplanned hole in it from use.

Backlit with blue lights, Malo shifted into his robust upper register, with just a hint of vibrato, and delivered a definitive reading of a most famous song. At song’s end, he was sporting a Willie-worthy grin.

To recount the best dance numbers from the night would be like listing just about every selection in the set. Just call it another unforgettable night with the Mavericks, one of America’s preeminent live bands.

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