Friday, February 5, 2016

The Accordion: Come Unto Me


As a devoted listener to WFUV, I was certainly aware of The Mavericks, but they were really just on the edge of my musical consciousness. I recognized and liked a few songs, and that was about that. My friend Tom, a fine singer and guitarist in his own right, whose bands often cover The Mavericks, kept telling me how great they were live. As usual in matters musical (not to mention food, TV and soccer, despite his support of Manchester United), Tom did not steer me wrong.

My first exposure to the band’s live show was at the 2014 Clearwater Festival. My wife and I had spent an incredible first day, seeing, among others, an all-star tribute to Pete and Toshi Seeger, Dar Williams, Guy Davis, Dan Bern and Richard Thompson (and you wonder why we were upset when they cancelled this year’s festival). My wife had enough, and decided to leave, but I wasn’t going to miss The Mavericks’ closing set. And it was worth every second. They truly kicked some ass, and had me dancing. And if you know me, you know that’s a big deal, especially because I wasn’t even close to drunk.

What makes them such a good live band? Start with the music—a mix of country, rock, Western swing, and more varieties of Latin music than I know how to name. Singer Raul Malo, whose deep, expressive voice is one of those that you never forget when you hear it, is of Cuban descent from Miami, and there is definitely some of that in there, along with all sorts of Tex-Mex sounds. Then, add the fact that it is just played well, and with incredible enthusiasm. Plus, as we know, horns make everything better. Stir in Malo’s charisma and stage presence, the goofy charm of keyboard player Jerry Dale McFadden and the menacing intensity of guitarist Eddie Perez, and you have something that is not only unique, but incredibly infectious and fun.

For some time, the band has made regular appearances at the Tarrytown Music Hall, in my town, and when they announced their 2014 dates, there was no question that I was going to go. My wife, Tom and I caught the show from the front row of the balcony, and the full set was even better than the shorter festival performance. The crowd was on its feet from the first note, and the show was a nonstop party. The video above was shot by someone on the floor, sort of below where we were sitting. The sound isn’t great, but it gives you a sense of what was going on. Another friend, Bob, who is a volunteer usher at the Music Hall, and thus sees many, many shows, swears that The Mavericks are, by far, the best live band that plays there.

I picked that song, “Come Unto Me,” because it features the button accordion, a common instrument in Mexican folk and popular music. Michael Guerra, who is not a full member of the band, but tours and records with them, does a great job lending a Mexican flavor to the song, not to mention has a long solo. Also, at the end, Malo points at me. Sort of.

At last year’s Clearwater Festival, The Mavericks again closed the show. And again, my wife left early (it really was raining hard when she left, but I really wanted to see The Mavericks again). Unfortunately, due to the rainstorm, which had stopped, but led to delays and equipment issues, they took the stage late and their set was truncated. But what they played was, again, great. We skipped last year’s Tarrytown residency, but I do hope to go back the next time they play there, with or without my wife.

Speaking of my wife, as I may have mentioned, she, and my daughter, are proud alumnae of Smith College, as is this feminist maverick:

Say hi to the legendary accordion player, Gloria Steinem.

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