“Tis the season to be jolly” as they say at this time of year. Whether or not you choose to is your business, but I always seem to need a “jump start” to get me in the holiday mood. On a chilly Saturday night in Los Angeles (yeah, I know, “chilly” here is different than everywhere else…), I found EXACTLY what I was looking for. On this particular night, The Mavericks were taking the stage, and their eclectic blend of “Tex-Mex” brand of rock ‘n’ roll combined with a bunch of Christmas songs was the perfect elixir to engage the holiday spirit.
The setting for the show was the stylish Theatre at Ace Hotel in downtown Los Angeles. Built in 1927 as the flagship movie palace for United Artists — the maverick (pun intended) film studio founded by Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, D.W Griffith, and Charlie Chaplin — The Theatre at Ace Hotel is “a delicately restored, 1,600-seat cathedral to the arts, with a three-story, 2,300 square foot grand lobby, an ornate open balcony, and a vaulted ceiling dotted with thousands of mirrors that glimmer like tiny stars.” It has many ornate figures adorning its walls, as well as the spectacular ceiling and ramped rows of comfortable seating, ideal for ultimate views of the stage. The sound and lighting were excellent, and the staff was very courteous.
Opening act JD McPherson got the crowd on his side as he and his wonderful combo, staying with the Christmas theme, played 40 minutes of holiday hits from his fabulous Christmas album, “Socks.” I have been a fan of his for quite some time, and his retro-rocking style is infectious. To hear him translate it into his holiday material was a real treat. Highlights included “Hey, Skinny Santa” as well as a cover of Chuck Berry’s “Run Rudolph Run.” The title track to “Socks” is a hilarious ode to receiving that dreaded gift on Christmas as a kid. “Oh, the humanity,” he shouted, as the band tore into that delightful ditty. In my opinion, JD McPherson and his band were the perfect way to start the best Christmas show I have witnessed in years.
The Miami-based Mavericks, featuring the outstanding vocalist Raul Malo, guitarist Eddy Perez, drummer Paul Deakin, and the very entertaining keyboardist Jerry Dale McFadden, were joined onstage by a large group of musicians, and backed by a large “Day of the Dead” logo banner emblazoned with “Feliz Navidad.” The band got right into it, opening with a few numbers from their 2018 Christmas release, “Hey! Merry Christmas!” Singer Malo, looking resplendent in a sparkly dark red and black smoking jacket and a scarf, let his magnificent tenor soar on sing-along numbers like “I Have Wanted You for Christmas” and the rollicking title track “Hey! Merry Christmas!” that got the crowd up on their feet and dancing in the aisles.
A Mavericks show is never short on material, or spotlighting the band. They dipped deep into their large catalogue of songs, such as the bossa nova styled “All Night Long” that filled the aisles with dancing couples, as well as eliciting the call and response “Woah- Oh- Oh” from the happy, sold-out audience. “Back in Your Arms Again” is such a fun song and it featured plenty of solo time to spotlight the various band members, in particular, the horns, and guitarist Perez, whose “Rock Star” image and baritone guitar licks are so prevalent to the band’s success.
Their huge hit “There Goes My Heart” was followed by the rocker “What You Do to Me,” which featured Malo and Perez “dueling” at one point on guitars. Deakin’s steady drum beat and the accents from the horns gave the song much more of a kick than the recorded version.
The band launched into a few numbers in Spanish and included their version of Alvaro Carillo’s classic “Sabor A Mi” that Malo crooned while he strummed an acoustic guitar. It brought out squeals and shouts of “Ah HAH” from many of the Hispanic members in the crowd, who make up a huge part of the Mavericks audience. The band was even joined by a lovely Spanish dancer who slithered around the stage for a few songs. Raul Malo balances so many vocal styles that all fit perfectly, from ballad to Spanish crooning, to full on rockers; it has been thrilling fans of his for years without pause.
The lovely “Amsterdam Moon” was the perfect transition back to English language songs, as Malo’s acoustic guitar and Percy Cardona’s tender accordion playing, gently changed the tempo to a soothing waltz which made one feel like they were drifting along on a vacation. “Come Unto Me” had Malo and company exploring their Cuban-American roots, with an infectious Latin beat throughout, and it was punctuated by Perez’s baritone guitar solos as well as some fabulous Latin percussion provided by Deakin.
The classic Cuban salsa dance beat of “Dancing in The Moonlight” led into the set closing “As Long As There’s Loving Tonight.” Jerry Dale McFadden started the boogie-woogie piano intro that got the song jump-started, and his Jerry Lee Lewis-style solo in the song started a grouping of solos where every member of the band was spotlighted, eventually leading to the entire band soloing before Malo brought the band back into the chorus. By this time, the entire sold-out audience was on their feet, dancing, clapping, and singing along, truly having a blast!
After a standing ovation, the band left the stage briefly, before returning for a bit of cool-yule, the bluesy “Santa Want’ to Take You for a Ride” and followed with the Phil Spector styled “Christmas Time (Is Coming ‘Round Again)” that again featured pianist McFadden at his best. The Mavericks then closed the show with their biggest hit, the rousing, Big Al Anderson/Raul Malo penned “All You Ever Do Is Bring Me Down” that, in spite of the song’s title, is about as happy and fun of a rock song that I dare you to find. Again the crowd roared their approval, as the band took bows, saluting the end of a wonderful evening.
The Mavericks’ “Hey! Merry Christmas!” and JD McPherson’s “Socks” will both be cranked up on my Hi-Fi system as I open my gifts under my tree this year. I hope you can follow my advice and secure a copy of each. It’s guaranteed holiday cheer for all music lovers, I promise. My thanks to those that made it possible for me to attend, and ignite my “holiday season pilot light.” Happy Holidays to all!