The Mavericks’ two-day siege of Knuckleheads is becoming an annual event, one that draws big crowds that inevitably go home each night satisfied.
Friday night, the band founded in Miami more than 25 years ago played to a crowd of more than 1,000 at Knuckleheads’ outdoor stage, some of whom watched from tables in the street outside.
Saturday, an even bigger sold-out crowd (1,200 or so) is expected.
Kansas City loves this band and for good reason. They play an appealing mix of Tex-Mex, country (from Bakersfield to Nashville), pop and rockabilly. And they perform it all with uninhibited enthusiasm, exhibiting a refined sense of musicianship all the while.
Friday’s show lasted two hours and comprised more than two dozen songs. After taking the stage to the regal, symphonic sounds of Jacques Offenbach’s “Infernal Galop,” better known as the cancan song, the Mavericks opened with “Sinners and Saints,” a track from a solo album by Raul Malo, the band’s charismatic guitarist and lead singer.
It’s a rollicking Latin-rock anthem with a dynamic Dick Dale/Hugo Montenegro intro, and it aptly set the mood for all that would follow.
The rest of the night comprised a mix of Mavericks favorites, a few Malo solo numbers and several covers, the most touching of which was their tribute to Merle Haggard: a Tex-Mex-ish version of “Okie From Muskogee” that launched a hearty singalong.
The Mavericks write a lot about love, romance, heartache and sex, and many of their titles imply what the lyrics cover: “All Night Long,” “What You Do To Me,” “As Long As There’s Loving Tonight,” “Loving You” and “Back In Your Arms Again.”
They performed all of those songs, showcasing the band’s multifaceted sounds and its high level of talent.
Malo is a gifted singer with impressive range, agility and power. He is also a skilled guitarist. Behind him, he had plenty of help from a band that included Paul Deakin on drums, Eddie Perez on guitar, the effervescent and colorfully garbed Jerry Dale McFadden on keyboards, Michael Guerra on accordion and a two-piece horn section (sax and trumpet).
Except for the span of a few ballads, which included a slow country-soul cover of Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon,” they kept the mood upbeat and the dance floor humming all night. Several times they used extended instrumentals to crank up the tension and anticipation within a song, then leap into a climactic chorus that uncorked euphoria throughout the joint.
“As Long As There’s Loving Tonight” was one of those, a rip-snorting melodic, country-rockabilly anthem that went on for about six glorious minutes.
Other highlights: “All Night Long,” “Dance The Night Away,” an extra-buoyant version of “Back in Your Arms Again,” the cover of Doug Sahm’s “She’s About a Mover” and the cover of “Twist and Shout,” which followed a joyous rendition of “Guantanamera.”
They closed with “All You Ever Do Is Bring Me Down,” one of the more ebullient breakup songs ever written and a song that never lives up to its title.
It gave the big crowd a chance to dance, sing and express its joy one more time.