Hitting the stage at 9 p.m. to a packed Duck Room, Raul made sure to let us know that if we weren't in the Christmas spirit, we would be soon -- whether we liked it or not. After blasting through a quartet of holiday classics, including a surf rock-inspired "A Not So Merry Christmas" and a rendition of "Santa Claus Is Back" that was so steeped in the blues that I thought B.B. King was on stage; I was in the spirit even though Christmas music is low on my list of favorites.
Malo has the kind of voice that transcends genre. After seeing him switch from surf rock to delta blues to Italian standards in the span of a few hours, I'm convinced that he could sing from the Yellow Pages and still enthrall his audience. His voice is full and powerful with a rapid vibrato reminiscent of Roy Orbison. Malo's guitar skills are on par with his vocal talent. He spent the evening switching between a classical acoustic and a Gretsch hollow-body, shredding and picking his heart out with every song.
The backing band was fantastic, consisting of drummer John McTigue, bassist Elio Giordano, Michael Guerra on the accordion and Kullen Fuchs doubling up on keyboards and trumpet. Guerra and Fuchs in particular were standouts. Guerra played like a man possessed, coaxing sounds from his squeezebox that ran the gamut from crunchy electric guitar to Leslie-drenched Hammond organ. Fuchs' trumpeting was some of the best I've seen, his parts spaced out well enough that it didn't overpower the rest of the band. He was like the Ancient Master in an old Kung-Fu flick; you knew the second he did something it was going to be amazing, and it was every time.
Malo and his band were obviously enjoying themselves on stage, chatting back and forth during songs and putting on one hell of a show. At one point a fan brought some drinks to the stage and the band stopped playing and had a drink before picking up exactly where they left off and finishing the tune.
After Malo played a pair of songs solo, the rest of the band came back and played a handful of "false starts" to tease the crowd, including Neil Diamond's "I Am I Said" and "Blueberry Hill" before actually playing an impromptu cover of the Righteous Brothers' "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'."
Highlights of the evening included "Santa Claus is Back," "San Antonio Baby" and the encore of "All You Ever Do Is Bring Me Down." There was a big present for the crowd, which came when Raul announced the reformation of the Mavericks in 2012 with advanced notice of a tour and possibly a new record. I know I'll be looking forward to seeing them when they pass through town if the show Raul put on is any indication of how good he'll be with his old bandmates.