Archive for in performance

in performance: ben monder

Ben Monder. Photo by John Rogers

After an extended opening medley of “My One and Only Love” and “Dreamsville” that offered dual images of his guitar profile, Ben Monder mumbled a cordial greeting to the crowd gathered Friday evening at the Friends Meeting House on Price Ave. for the Origins Jazz Series. It was next to impossible to discern what was said, so the follow-up remark seemed a little curious.
“That was a joke.”
Mild laughter.
“I’ll be here all night.”
Slightly more pronounced laughter.
“Well, for about another 30 minutes.”
While the New York guitarist’s future as a comedian may be in doubt, his considerable ability to create a gallery full of sound portraits during the 70-minute solo electric performance was asserted. The opening medley, performed as separate interpretations on his fine 2019 album “Day After Day,” set the pace for a program whose melodic intensity continually mounted. “My One and Only Love,” however, came across like an intimate conversation with single, piano-like notes that established a chiming balance of atmospherics and melody.
For much of the evening, such duality would be called upon. Monder would regularly employ a modest array of pedal effects to establish his sound, although they were mostly used for tonal effect. There was no looping and noticeable delay gimmickry. The textured sound he would create for the program seemed quite organic.
Things intensified slightly as Monder took on Ralph Towner’s “Anthem.” While it was thrilling just to hear a work by the almost exclusively acoustic catalogue of the great Towner transferred to an electric setting, Monder struck a fascinating balance between his layered sound and the tune’s moody countenance. For instance, at the heart of the composition sat a brief, but ominous melody reminiscent of a chant. Monder used it as an anchor for an interpretation that employed more distorted guitar voices, courtesy of the pedals, to establish his own sense of ambience.
The warmer, cyclical set up of another standard, “Never Let Me Go,” reflected orchestration constructed around a series of agile, rolling chords repeated in almost mantra-like fashion. That helped set up an eventual finale where Monder gave in fully to his darker ambient impulses. The soundscape opened with a mounting electric edge, suggestive of the storm to come. When it arrived, Monder indulged in an exquisite torrent of sound – a massive electric wash that flooded the room in waves. The results mirrored remarkably the sonic imagery from the title tune to “Day After Day.”
Monder mentioned the segment was inspired by Zen poetry. The music’s initial darkness might have disputed that estimation, but the eventual electric envelopment of the finale did indeed suggest a choral spaciousness – an aural sky where shards of light continually found their way safely to those below.

in performance: elvis costello and the imposters

Elvis Costello. Photo by Stephen Done.

When a four-decade career has weathered numerous shifts and detours through the pop universe, an audience can become understandably fractured. The problem with that? Fashioning a concert program that appeals to as much of that far-reaching fanbase as possible. Elvis Costello made all that look ridiculously easy Sunday evening at the Louisville Palace with a fun, vital and immensely electric performance alongside with his long-running Imposters band. It was part garage-rock brawl, part pop-soul manifesto and part post-punk carnival.

Fancy the favorites? The Imposters covered just about every lasting hit in the Costello catalog, from a playful “(The Angels Want to Wear My) Red Shoes” and to a prayer-like concert finale of “Alison” that morphed into the 1968 Supremes/Temptations hit “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me.” The most beguiling of the classics, though, remained “Watching the Detectives.” Costello hotwired it with a subtle but pronounced urgency over the dub-like atmospherics of keyboardist Steve Nieve and drummer Pete Thomas (holdovers from the singer’s Attractions band of the ‘70s and ‘80s) and a visual backdrop of vintage film noir posters (including “Kansas City Confidential” AND “New York Confidential,” no less).

Looking for obscurities? Ah, this is where the show really got interesting. Costello spent roughly half of the concert rummaging through the more distant chapters of his songbook. The excavation began at the onset of the evening with the show-opening “Strict Time” (from 1981’s exquisite “Trust” album) that was delivered with a punctuated, Bo Diddley-inspired groove. Later, the show downshifted with Costello at the piano for Allen Toussaint’s stately “The Greatest Love” (a bonus track from the 2006 Costello/Toussaint collaboration “The River in Reverse”). The biggest surprise, though, had to be “Next Time ‘Round,” a dark hullabaloo off of 1986’s “Blood and Chocolate” full of ragged melodic hooks, glorious vocal support from Kitten Kuroi and Briana Lee and an ensemble Imposters sound that framed the song’s Brit-pop accent with punkish immediacy.

Want a song from the present day? For all of the time tripping, Costello stayed current. There were a pair of tunes from 2018’s “Look Now” – a pared down reading of “Suspect My Tears” that replaced the studio version’s lush orchestration with a leaner neo-soul sheen, and the more outwardly Motown-ish “Mr. and Mrs. Hush” with its jubilantly defiant chorus chant of “Are you ready?” There were also intriguing previews of a musical Costello is basing around the 1957 film “A Face in the Crowd” highlighted by the snake-oil spiritualism of “Blood and Hot Sauce” (“Keep your hand on the Bible and your finger on the trigger”).

For all of his considerable rock ‘n’ roll persona, Costello often revealed himself as a traditionally minded stage entertainer, whether it was through occasional vaudeville-esque wisecracking (“I have the face of a priest. He wants it back.”) or letting a wildly fervent “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding” slip briefly into the calmer romantic breeze of the “West Side Story” serenade “Somewhere.”

Such is the odyssey of a pop journeyman mindful of his musical past and future but still very much at home in his performance skin of the moment.

in performance: the allman betts band

From left, Berry Duane Oakley, Devon Allman and Duane Betts of the Allman Betts Band.

The recorded intro to Monday evening’s very involving performance by the Allman Betts Band at Frankfort’s Grand Theatre was as telling as it was familiar. It was the classic 1972 version of “Little Martha,” a cornerstone tune of the Allman Brothers Band, the ensemble that in many ways served as a template for the younger group about to walk onstage.

But the piece refined that sense of place and purpose, as it was an unaccompanied acoustic guitar duet between Duane Allman and Dicky Betts, the uncle and father, respectively, of the two guitarists at the helm of this current troupe, Devon Allman and Duane Betts. As the live adventures of the Allman Betts Band unfolded over the next 1 ¾ hours, the inevitable lineage to the Allman Brothers Band was both embraced and built upon. The echoes of the past were often very purposeful but so was the establishment of a separate and distinct Southern voice. Where the fathers’ band was rooted in the blues, much of the sons’ ensemble took its cue from Muscle Shoals soul. But regularly, the generational differences nicely converged.

The show opening “All Night,” for instance, was bathed in an entirely different Southern aura – namely, the power chords and celebratory rock intent of Tom Petty. That inspiration would echo more profoundly near the end of the evening with a cover of Petty’s “Southern Accent,” a tale of weather-beaten cultural identity that differs greatly from the usual fist-pumping anthems associated with conventional Southern rock. Performed with a percussion-less arrangement of vocals, keyboards and guitar, Petty’s tune became something of a cautionary meditation.

Both songs featured Allman, who looked, acted, and sang nothing like his late father, Gregg Allman. The younger artist was more jovial and outgoing, possessing a deeper, less blues-savvy voice. That helped works like “All Gone” and “Down by the River” fortify the soul-savvy foundation of the newer band’s sound.

Betts, on the other hand, is a dead ringer for dad. He sang with his father’s high Southern tenor and played guitar with a knowing progressive phrasing that propelled a very faithful reading of the Dickey Betts instrumental staple “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” as well the best of the newer group’s material, namely an extended work called “Autumn Breeze.” The latter revealed a relaxed, orchestral groove that his guitarwork, along with the colorful slide guitar contributions of Johnny Stachela, glided over with studied grace.

The family ties didn’t end there. Playing bass was Berry Duane Oakley, son of founding Allman Brothers Band bassist Berry Oakley. Although he honored his father by singing lead on the John Lee Hooker boogie gem “Dimples” (a tune his dad regularly performed with the Allman Brothers), the younger Oakley was content to play the role of lieutenant in the Allman Betts brigade. He added joyous, rolling bass lines to new works like “Good Ol’ Days” and a patient, practiced foundation to a rendition of “Purple Rain” that layered the Prince hit, as well as the other dozen compositions making up this spirited performance, with a coating of honest Southern solemnity.

in performance: the avett brothers

The Avett Brothers: Joe Kwon, Bob Crawford, Scott Avett and Seth Avett.

“I am a breathing time machine,” sang Scott Avett at the halfway point of an immensely affirmative performance by the Avett Brothers at Rupp Arena on Saturday evening. “I’ll take you all for a ride.”

That he did, along with guitarist/sibling Seth Avett, longtime bassist Bob Crawford and five other resourceful players, by tearing through a suitcase full of folk-rock inspirations and storylines that shifted from the delicate to the morose to the political. The combination mixed folk revival fervor with an organic performance design rooted in vintage indie pop and a dash of jam band glee. That meant the music that surfaced for the crowd of 5,000 was as fun as it was appealingly unvarnished.

The “time machine” brother Scott sang of in “Laundry Room” didn’t allude to any lasting sense of folk tradition. The Avetts didn’t come off as a throwback act. Any trace of traditionalism was fleeting, like the bluegrass accents that initiated “Denouncing November Blue (Uneasy Writer)” earlier in the evening. Instead, the Avetts preferred mashing up generations as well as stylistic influences, which is why many of the songs in the two-hour program possessed an intriguing sense of contrasting and, at times, conflicting dynamics.

“Laundry Room,” for instance, began with quiet, folkish reflection before exploding into a rambunctious ensemble hoedown. Similarly, “Bleeding White,” one of several tunes pulled from the Avetts’ new “Closer Than Together” album, shifted away from folk intention entirely and plugged into some of the show’s choicest electric stamina.

Sometimes the imagery turned dark, as in “Satan Pulls the Strings,” but the drive of the full seven-member ensemble – a troupe that augmented the core trio of Avett, Avett and Crawford with strings, keyboards and drums – dispelled any true spirit of menace. The groove was too hearty for that.

As intriguing as the give and take of the ensemble dynamics were, some of the evening’s most arresting moments came when the Avetts trimmed the band back to its trio foundation or less. The show-opening “Shame” let the modest blend of the brothers’ banjo/guitar dialogue ease the evening in before the full band charge took over. Later, the trio took to a single microphone at the end of a short walkway that extended into the audience to create a similar sense of intimacy with “I Wish I Was.”

Not everything worked, at least from a compositional standpoint. Seth Avett’s “We Americans,” another “Closer Than Together” song, was a well-meaning but overreaching socio-political discourse that didn’t possess the musical ingenuity to match its lofty narrative intent.

But for the most part, the band dynamics commanded the evening, as in the way the summery “At the Beach” prefaced the anthemic “Head Full of Doubt, Road Full of Promise” and the manner in which a merry encore cover of the Bob Wills staple “Stay a Little Longer” (the show’s only obvious traditional concession) set up the more plaintive finale of “No Hard Feelings.”

It should be also noted that this performance may have a set a record for early evening completion of a Rupp concert. With no opening act on the bill and no intermission to indulge in, the Avetts delivered their full 23 song show and sent the crowd home before 10 o’clock. The start of a new arena show concept? If anyone is asking, my vote is a yea.

 

in performance: the earls of leicester

The Earls of Leicester.

It was the last concert of the year for the Earls of Leicester on Sunday evening at the Lyric Theatre and Cultural Arts Center. So in explaining the band’s eagerness in hitting the road and heading home, band founder and overall ringmaster Jerry Douglas offered a proclamation on the onset of the evening.

“We’re going to play real fast.”

A joke? And if not, a feckless excuse for getting a concert over and done with? The answers: Definitely no to the latter and sorta kinda to the former. The thing is, the whole deal with the Earls is bluegrass – specifically, the still soulful and technically audacious repertoire of Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs, so playing “real fast” is something of a requisite.

Yes, the Earls made quick business of things at the Lyric, cramming 25 tunes into a set that clocked in at just under 90 minutes. And while audience patrons did have to figuratively strap themselves in to keep up with the lightning pace, no one was short changed. The musicianship was typically authoritative, the harmonies were sublime (especially the frequent four-part blend that draped the more patiently paced tunes as well as the warp speed numbers) and the band spirit was bold enough to suggest no one was enjoying this wrap party of a performance more than the players onstage.

With only one exception (a fun cover of Roger Miller’s “In the Summertime”), the setlist was drawn exclusively from the Flatt & Scruggs catalog, from Charlie Cushman’s take on Scruggs’ wild shifts in banjo tuning during “Flint Hill Special” (which closed the concert) to guitarist Shawn Camp’s light and inviting Flatt-style presence as an emcee as well as vocalist to the irrepressibly joyous runs on fiddle by Johnny Warren (the son of original Foggy Mountain Boys fiddle man Paul Warren).

There were a few new faces in the lineup, too. Specifically, Ashby Frank subbed for Jeff White on mandolin while Daniel Kimbro took over for Barry Bales on bass. But the transition was seamless. “I’ll Go Stepping Too” still breezed along with effortless string music cheer, “White House Blues” still raced with delirious speed and agility and “Paul and Silas” still used the Earls’ potent harmonies to fuel an impassioned gospel feel.

That left, as Camp called him, “Uncle Flux” – the mighty Douglas. Unlike his own projects, the Earls’ sense of ensemble stamina and performance economy left minimal room to showcase his full dexterity on the dobro. But since Flatt & Scruggs dobro great Josh Graves, a musical mentor for Douglas, had to operate with similar efficiency in the Foggy Mountain Boys, the Earls’ dobro lines were delivered with a concise but very defined drive.

For those needing something just a touch more demonstrative, though, there was the instrumental medley of “Spanish Two Step” and “Steel Guitar Blues,” an astonishing display of tone and tempo where the spirit of Graves and ingenuity of Douglas merged into a singular, fiery celebration of bluegrass tradition.

Had the Earls been able to convert that kind of energy into bus fuel for the ride back home… well, let’s just say there would have quite a few startled state troopers along I-65 on Sunday night.

in performance: postmodern jukebox

Rogelio Douglas Jr of Postmodern Jukebox.

For all the concern in capturing the feel of the 1920s, a sentiment that extended to tagging its current tour as “Welcome to the Twenties 2.0,” Postmodern Jukebox didn’t seem content in staying put in any set time zone Saturday evening at the Singletary Center for the Arts.

Sure, the better part of its immensely entertaining two set, two hour concert used the a 30 year span stretching from the Roaring ‘20s to the Post-war era as a ballpark scenario for its jazz and blues re-castings of contemporary pop compositions. And, yes, with four immensely capable vocalists, six stylistically astute musicians and a tap dancing maniac, the ensemble found yesteryear a pretty cozy place to chart at least part of the evening from. But by the end of the night, the time tripping landed everyone in the present day for the most volcanically potent performance of the night.

First, the beginning – or rather, the past. The first three songs of the evening indeed roared back to somewhere around the ‘20s with a sense of vaudeville that was as pronounced as the jazz sensibility. It began with vocalist/emcee Rogelio Douglas, Jr. and tap dancer Matt Shields transforming the Michael Jackson staple “Thriller” into a slice of playful swing. Singer Dani Armstrong (who performed last night under the non de plume of Jack Dani) then injected “Toxic” with noir-seasoned textures and dynamics that were light years beyond the vocal ability of the song’s originator, Britney Spears. Then PMJ newcomer Therese Curatolo led a charge of swing that fell somewhere between tango and klezmer on a makeover of Billie Eilish’s “bad guy.” Actually, the latter’s foremost accomplishment was wiping clean the original’s vacuous attitude and robotic vocal detachment so Curatolo could inject the tune with some vampish humanity.

The rest of the program maintained the inventive, retro-inclined cabaret spirit with a few technical glitches (a muddy sound mix at the show’s onset and some intrusive rings of feedback in the second set) until the past caught up with the present during the program’s encore.

Here, Armstrong grabbed hold of the Sia hit “Chandelier” in a version that didn’t so much echo the ‘20s as simply free the song from the synthesized confines of its original version. In short, it was presented as an organically orchestrated pop work that Armstrong took to the heavens with earnest, operatic vocal drama. No, it didn’t possess any obvious atmosphere of nostalgia or even the campy pleasantries that distinguished the rest of the show. It was rather a straight-up arrangement with a commanding vocal presence that, frankly, put the original to shame. And that’s a pop effect that works like magic in any era.

in performance: amanda gardier

Amanda Gardier. Photo by Tim McLaughlin.

The performance appeal and accessibility of Amanda Gardier was established within the opening moments of a set (the first of two) Friday evening at Tee Dee’s Bluegrass Progressive Club. The tune that placed the introduction in motion was “Fjord,” an original composition by the Indianapolis based alto saxophonist that revealed a respect for melody – specifically, a rolling, descending riff with a hint of Latin flavor. It affirmed an instrumental voice that was subtle, tasteful and a touch restless.

Though she would eventually establish as assured command of bop and swing, Gardier never overplayed her hand. There was a lightness in her playing that made brash, exploitive runs on the sax unnecessary. Instead, much of her set revealed an alto sound of often graceful ease, whether it was through the more boppish inclination of standards like “Beatrice” or the more autumnal luster of originals like “Smoke.”

But this wasn’t pop or fusion-esque lyricism at work. As melodically spacious as her playing was, Gardier also exhibited inventive twists of tempos and dynamics within a solo, especially through the darting, punctuated runs that ignited a nimble reading of “You and the Night and Music.”

Gardier had considerable help in piloting such an intriguing set. The prime foil within her onstage quartet was guitarist and husband Charlie Ballantine, a player with zero interest in fusion-style flamboyance in his soloing. Instead, he employed a modest touch of echo to frame solos as well as rhythmic passages, which, in their more spacious moments, nicely recalled the electric taste of the late John Abercrombie.

Such accessibility served Gardier well. As the second featured artist in the third season of the Origins Jazz Series, she is largely unknown in Central Kentucky. By exhibiting a conservable level of solo and ensemble ingenuity that respectfully honored groove and melody without surrendering to them, she offered a performance introduction that tastefully calls for a follow-up visit.

in performance: bela fleck, zakir hussain and edgar meyer with rakesh chaurasia

Bela Fleck, Zakir Hussain and Edgar Meyer. Photo by Jim McGuire.

After tearing through the absurdly treacherous rhythmic passages in a tune Indian tabla percussionist Zakir Hussain penned for longtime musical pal John McLaughlin, banjoist Bela Fleck – an artist who is not exactly a slouch when it comes to the demands of progressive music – offered a subtle confession.

“That was hard.”

Cue bassist Edgar Meyer, a Fleck compadre of several decades and an artist with an equal sense of artistic adventure and, perhaps more importantly, sense of humor.

“It’s not hard if you practice.”

That was the kind of alliance Hussain, Fleck and Meyer struck up Friday evening at the Singletary Center for the Arts in a fascinating East meets West musical summit where borders quickly dissolved and a common artistic topography was merrily explored.

Take the show-opening “Bubbles,” a tune from “The Melody of Rhythm,” the 2009 album that largely introduced the trio’s collaborative spirit. It began, as did many of the evening’s pieces, with a bowed bass passage from Meyer that danced between the plaintive and playful revealing elements of classical and folk working alongside a hearty measure of the blues. Hussain gradually added rhythmic colors on tabla until the instrument’s unmistakably Eastern sensibility took over. Then Fleck’s lead became the tune’s catalyst, establishing a tone of remarkable agility and lightness – a combination he would return to throughout the performance. The resulting music sounded, alternately, earthy and spiritual – a contemplative journey with numerous roots-driven signposts.

“That’s what this is going to be like,” Fleck told the audience at the tune’s conclusion – a promise for the evening the trio proudly kept. In short order, though, the group became a quartet with the addition of Rakesh Chaurasia on a variety of Indian flutes, including the bamboo-made bansuri. This added another voice to the group’s global fabric, enhancing vibrant runs that punctuated melodies with Meyer but also producing backdrops with mischievous colors and drone-like subtleties that underscored a meditative feel under Hussain’s playing.

For some, this might have seemed a curious mix – two popular American stylists whose strong bluegrass roots long ago became springboards for myriad outside inspirations teamed with a pair of master Indian classical artists and their penchant for collaboration. Fleck (a Lexingtonian briefly in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s) may have been the marquee draw and, to be sure, his performance did not disappoint. But the glue to this ensemble was clearly Hussain, whose sense of rhythmic adventure was at the helm of every piece performed, from works of raga-like grace to lyrically spacious pieces that emphasized the expansive expression of Fleck and Meyer.

The evening’s most enchanting moment, though, was also its most traditional and it belonged to Hussain alone. In an exhibition of konnakol vocalizing, Hussain put his percussion where his mouth was though the rapid recitation of syllables in an almost mathematical flow of meter. The result became wildly rhythmic and conversational even though the tablas were mostly left silent.

What was said likely seemed foreign to American ears. But the sense of musicality and joy exhibited needed no translation.

in performance: “it was fifty years ago today – a tribute to the beatles’ white album”

Todd Rundgren. Photo by Lynn Goldsmith.

First of all, the math was off.

The tribute tour to the Beatles’ White Album that played the Norton Center for the Arts in Danville on Sunday evening billed as “It Was Fifty Years Ago Today” fell victim to miscalculation. The day of this writing, Sept. 30, marks 50 years to the day since the U.S. release of a cornerstone Beatles recording. It wasn’t the White Album, but rather the masterpiece “Abbey Road.” The White Album, the bundle of fractured fascination that it was, came out in November 1968.

A detail, you say? Hey, this is The Beatles were talking about. Details were, and still are, everything.

What Danville wound up with a good intentioned tribute that was a year late and a few rock ‘n’ roll gems short. It was fun from a purely nostalgic viewpoint and genuinely engrossing when the veteran artists participating in it proved to be performance-fit for the occasion. When they weren’t, well…

The unlikely fivesome covered a career as old as the White Album itself. The members included Monkees mainstay Mickey Dolenz, who became a TV teen idol beginning in 1966; longstanding guitarist, song stylist and producer Todd Rundgren, who began issuing records just as the White Album surfaced; Joey Molland, the only surviving original member of the ‘70s pop group Badfinger; pop/rock songsmith Christopher Cross, whose career broke open at the dawn of the 1980s; and Jason Scheff, the bassist/vocalist who replaced Peter Cetera in Chicago and remained with the horn-driven band for over three decades.

The winners: Scheff and Rundgren. Vocally, they were far and away the show’s strongest entries. Scheff still has a durable range for lighter pop fare that nicely underscored the mounting turbulence of “Dear Prudence” and “Julia” while Rundgren hit the harder stuff – “Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey” and “Helter Skelter” – with the command of a rock ‘n’ roll sage. Rundgren also took the biggest risks. He was unafraid to add a vaudevillian twist to “The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill” by shooting a squirt gun the size of a bazooka into the audience but stayed solemn for the necessary instrumental investment needed to pull off a dynamic “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.”

The others were more problematic. Dolenz, as he was in Monkees heyday, was a performance clown who mugged his way through “I’m So Tired” and “Rocky Raccoon” without much vocal firepower at all. Molland summoned only a modest vocal charge during “Savoy Truffle” and “Revolution 1.” Cross seemed like he was in another room with quiet, distant singing that suited softer works like “Blackbird” and “I Will” nicely. But he seemed noticeably detached from the rest of the ensemble.

Each of the featured artists were allowed two songs each from their respective careers with Scheff and Rundgren again in the driver’s seat.  Though saddled with tunes he didn’t originally record with Chicago, Scheff offered authoritative takes on a hornless “25 or 6 to 4” and the ‘80s pop ballad “Hard to Say I’m Sorry.” Rundgren went right for the two 1972 hits that established his career, “I Saw the Light” and “Hello It’s Me,” performing both with cheery freshness. Dolenz aped his way through “I’m a Believer” and “Pleasant Valley Sunday,” Molland gave workmanlike readings of the Badfinger hits “Baby Blue” (which Rundgren served as producer for in 1971) and “No Matter What” and Cross offered capable but somewhat anesthetized versions of “Sailing” and “Ride Like the Wind.”

The members continually entered and exited during the evening, which offered a somewhat disjointed band spirit. Only “Back in the U.S.S.R” and “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da,” which opened and closed the performance, had everyone onstage at the same time.

A recording of the White Album’s finale tune “Good Night” was played as the audience exited bringing to mind how it and the record’s only other tune sung by Ringo Starr, “Don’t Pass Me By,” were, well, passed by during the performance.

Poor Ringo. So many celebs onstage and not one of them could give the drummer some.

in performance: the mavericks/nick lowe and los straitjackets

The Mavericks. From left: Paul Deakin, Raul Malo, Jerry Dale McFadden and Eddie Perez.

Raul Malo seemed to commiserate Thursday evening at the Brown Theatre in Louisville with his audience. Specifically, he addressed a question he felt  fans have long been confronted with by skeptics of the band he has now fronted for three decades, The Mavericks.
“What kind of music do they play?”
Well, The Mavericks’ wildly spirited 90-minute outing probably didn’t make finding a suitable tag any easier, but let’s give it a try. How about Cowboy conjunto music? What that translated into, through a setlist that spanned nearly all of the band’s three decade career, was a series of songs occasionally rooted in very traditional country sentiments, but with a spacious zest that alternately shifted between accordion driven norteno and Tex Mex sounds to brassy, percussive Cuban excursions hinting at son music but with an exuberance that swelled well past obvious borderlines.
Malo, as always was at the forefront of this multi-cultural charge with a buoyant tenor voice of remarkable range and expression. As such, comparisons to Roy Orbison were not out of place. But Malo also didn’t press the point. Opening tunes like “All You Ever Do is Bring Me Down” and “Come Unto Me” allowed his vocals to soar without coercion or forced sentiment over the orchestrated rhythms of a beefed up, nine-member Mavericks lineup (the core quartet with a team of five auxiliary players lined up at the back of the stage).
But as evening progressed, Malo turned up the vocal intensity, reaching the boiling point with “Every Little Thing About You.” Pulled not from a Mavericks record but from his 2001 solo album “Today,” the song sported a powerful, descending riff that was emboldened by the band’s three-man horn team. From there, Malo hot-wired the Tejano adventure with an almost operatic drama and a tag team of guitar squalls aided by Mavericks co-pilot Eddie Perez.
Mostly, though, Malo was a blast to watch because he seemed to enjoy the show as much as the audience. A massive smile was plastered across his face throughout the evening. Match that with a sense of multi-cultural cunning that made a cover of John Anderson’s “Swingin’” sound like The Bar-Kays on a Havana holiday and Waylon Jennings’ classic “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way” seem adaptable enough to include an out-of-nowhere snippet of the Traffic/Dave Mason relic “Feelin’ Alright” and you had a pop hybrid of ingenious distinction.

Nick Lowe (center) and Los Straitjackets.

Good thing, too, that Malo and The Mavericks were at the top of their game as the performance opened with a sterling 55 minute set that teamed the great British pop stylist Nick Lowe with the surf, roots and rockabilly twang of Los Straitjackets.
For Lowe, who turned 70 this year, the program was a return to past form after a series of recordings that quieted his sense of pop expression to a whispery cool. Appearing remarkably fit, physically as well as vocally, Lowe rode easily with the pop cheer (and, at times, modest cynicism) of ‘70s and ‘80s gems like “So It Goes,” “Ragin’ Eyes” and “Without Love.”
For Los Straitjackets, the long-running instrumental band with a flair for visual novelty (its members don Mexican wrestling masks during performances), the Lowe connection was an easy fit. The band dressed calliope-like party pieces like “Half a Boy and Half a Man” with a vigorous guitar drive and Lowe’s biggest hit, “Cruel to be Kind,” with a fun, lyrical freshness.
Los Straitjackets also got a chance to dig into a quartet of tunes on their own, including the chiming, big beat original “Aerostar” and a playfully riff-centric, retro-rock update of the 1970 Shocking Blue radio hit “Venus.”
It was the set’s encore finale, “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding” that capped off the collaboration. Lowe first cut the tune over 45 years ago (although many will recognize it through a popular 1978 cover by Elvis Costello). But taken at a slower pace with Los Straitjackets providing support both complimentary and discreet, Lowe’s world-weary search for peace in a world caught in a spiritual tailspin never sounded more poignant, purposeful or timely.

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