Sweet dreams at Knuckleheads: Raul Malo concludes tour on high note

The boisterous audience packed into Knuckleheads on Friday clearly wasn't in the mood for holiday music.

As Raul Malo opened his show with four consecutive Christmas songs, the capacity crowd of about 350 grew increasingly restless. Even an exquisitely reverent rendition of "Silent Night" failed to quell the growing discontent. Just moments into the evening's first secular song, however, the dance floor of the East Bottoms roadhouse filled with Malo's exuberant female admirers.

Much of the congestion in the tightly packed room was relieved as the women were joined by male companions for the next selection, the gleeful Tex-Mex party song "San Antonio Baby." The dancing didn't let up for the duration of Malo's two-hour and ten-minute appearance. Backed by a fine four-piece band highlighted by Michael Guerra's astounding accordion work, the irresistible dance music provided the soundtrack for a night that will long be remembered by roots music aficionados.

Friday's concert was the final date of Malo's current tour. His band's performance exuded a correspondingly carefree tone. Malo will soon find himself in a different setting that will presumably allow him to perform in larger venues.

"Next year my old band The Mavericks is getting back together," Malo said. "We'll come back but we'll never be this close again."

The Mavericks were among the most interesting acts on the country charts in the '90s. A unique amalgamation of American music, the Mavericks combined the styles of Elvis Presley, Buck Owens and Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. Among the Mavericks selections Malo performed Friday were "Dance the Night Away" and "All You Ever Do Is Bring Me Down." Even better was a Latin-tinged reading of Bruce Springsteen's "All That Heaven Will Allow," a transportive version of the Righteous Brothers' "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin''" and a few traditional songs sung in Spanish. Eminently soulful and effortlessly operatic, Malo's voice remains a marvel. Both his visage and voice bear striking resemblances to a young Luciano Pavarotti.

The show may have begun unpromisingly, but it ended with a magical moment. A second encore concluded with a heartfelt version of the Roy Orbison hit "Dream Baby." As Malo and his band exited the stage for the final time, the audience continued to sing the song's chorus. The spontaneous effect felt like the sweetest of dreams.