Raul Malo at the Minnesota Zoo

Raul Malo at the Minnesota Zoo

Sometimes, long after events are booked, the stars somehow align.

How else can you explain the serendipitous one-two punch of Nachito Herrera, Minnesota’s great Cuban-American pianist, and Raul Malo, a Grammy-winning son of Cuban immigrants, and his band the Mavericks playing on the same night in the Twin Cities after the Cuban Embassy opened in Washington, D.C.?

As Herrera and his new band, the Universals, were wrapping up a two-night stand at the Dakota Jazz Club Tuesday, Malo and the Mavericks were treating a standing-room-only crowd at the Minnesota Zoo to two hours of nonstop hip and hip-inducing dance music.

In his second Twin Cities appearance this year, Malo pretty much stuck to the script, playing material from the Mavericks’ 1990s heyday as a Grammy-winning country band and tunes from its two recent and most excellent comeback albums.

But during a solo acoustic segment, Malo felt compelled to address the historic embassy opening (as Herrera had on Monday, as described in this post).  

“I never thought I’d see the day when our government was normalizing relations with Cuba,” Malo said. “I’m sick and tired of my Canadian friends rubbing it in. I never thought I’d see the day when the Cuban Embassy opened in Washington, D.C.”

With his face obscured by his big black cowboy hat, he then summoned deep welled emotion for what he called an old Cuban ballad, "Siboney." (It's written by the famous Cuban composer Ernesto Lecuona, Malo said in a tweet.) With his rich, robust voice,he trumped that Cuban tune with a version of “Summer Wind” during which the dance-happy crowd was suddenly pin-drop silent.

Malo also called another audible when his terrific band was onstage with him. Because of the gorgeous night, he was moved to do Neil Young’s sweetly romantic slow-dance “Harvest Moon” even though he warned that the band hadn’t played it in about a year. It was one of many highlights.

Malo was loose and somewhat casual, sporting blue jeans and a Cuban shirt instead of his usual Western suit decorated with sequined flowers. He was in excellent voice, though the sound system wasn’t as clear and crisp as the one experienced at the Mavericks’ three recent performances at the Pantages Theatre in downtown Minneapolis.

The set list was familiar to Pantages-goers, a hearty bunch of baby boomers who managed to move their hips if not always their feet even though they might have been into their second decade of AARP membership.

Each zoo-goer might assemble a different lists of highlights (there were that many) but one couldn’t argue with the Orbisonesque “I Should Have Been True,” the Ray Price classic “Don’t You Ever Get Tired (of Hurting Me),” the swingin’ “There Goes My Heart,” the snap-along “As Long As There’s Lovin’ Tonight,” the groovy, grinding “Every Little Thing About You,” the trumpet-blasted “Come Unto Me” and the rollicking punkabilly “All You Ever Do Is Bring Me Down,” the best Doug Sahm song that he didn’t write.

The Mavericks swing, they rock, they roll, they groove, they grind, they mix in all kinds of Latin styles. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: They are America’s best dance band. Period.