By Scott McLennan
The last half-hour or so of any Mavericks concert is usually just about the happiest place to be on the planet.
The Mavericks brought their 30th anniversary tour to Boarding House Park in Lowell on Aug. 30, and the show reminded listeners of just how far and wide their musical chops spread. Playing 22 songs over two hours, the Mavs zigged and zagged from frenetic dance numbers to contemplative tearjerkers, and dug more deeply into the band’s songbook than has been the norm over the previous visits to the area.
The Mavericks typically shuffle the deck from show to show, but the hand dealt on this beautiful summer Friday night turned up some truly surprising cards. The Mavs started their set by flipping back and forth between 2013’s “In Time” and 1994’s “What a Crying Shame,” with “Back in Your Arms Again” flowing into “There Goes My Heart,” then “Born to be Blue” and winding up with “Pretend.”
This was a great contrast between the alt-country “comeback” era Mavericks and neo-traditional hit-making Mavs, proving how one can move from the contemporary spotlight and continue to thrive with a newfound sense of creativity. These songs were not the hard-driving barn burners often associated with a Mavericks concert, and demanded (and deserved) a bit more attentive listening.
The concert’s kickoff, while different, still showcased the band’s raw talents: singer Raul Malo’s rich, supple tone; guitarist Eddie Perez’s taut, stinging phrases; drummer Paul Deakin’s steady timekeeping across leaps in genre; and keyboard player Jerry Dale McFadden’s madcap whimsy. Behind the core four, a dynamite cast of horn players, percussionists, accordionist, and bassist fleshed out the material and provided powerful solos.
The full dynamic range of the band blossomed seven songs in with “Dance in the Moonlight” and its rounds of solos (including an effects-laden guitar solo from Malo) bubbling up amid an extended jam.
Perhaps feeling reflective during this 30th anniversary jaunt, the Mavs delivered plenty of oldies, particularly during a mid-concert run of honky-tonk ballads, starting with “Loving You.” Malo’s smooth croon carried into “Oh What a Thrill” and a cover of “Blue Bayou.”
The back half of the concert uncorked all of the joyous, rootsy bacchanalia one associates with a Mavs’ show. Putting that aspect of the band so distinctly in contrast with its other facets made the whole show burn all the more brightly.
Malo was all wry smiles singing “Lucky One” from his solo album of the same name, and the manic “I Said I Love You” was a Tex-Mex whirlwind of the sort that has sealed this band’s reputation for being a tremendous live act.
The last half-hour or so of any Mavs concert is usually just about the happiest place to be on the planet. In Lowell, the band lived up to that reputation with a string of encores that began with a kicking version of its latest single, John Anderson’s rockin’ and rollin’ “Swingin’,” which featured Malo on keys alongside McFadden. The Mavs then shifted gears with another cover, putting a country honk into KC and the Sunshine Band’s “Boogie Shoes.” A boozy blast through the “Beer Barrel Polka” bled into the weed anthem “Rolling Along.” The Mavs finished up with the one-two punch of the bravado-dripping “Come Unto Me” and the most upbeat slice of feeling downtrodden, “All You Ever Do is Bring Me Down.”
If you were just looking for a good night out in Lowell, the Mavs gave you that; if you wanted a thorough but unfussy look back at the band’s history, you got that too.
Scott McLennan covered music for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette from 1993 to 2008. He then contributed music reviews and features to The Boston Globe, The Providence Journal, The Portland Press Herald and WGBH, as well as to the Arts Fuse. He also operated the NE Metal blog to provide in-depth coverage of the region’s heavy metal scene.