Raul Malo – Triple Door (Seattle, WA)
If there’s one thing pretty much guaranteed at a Raul Malo live show — besides being treated to perhaps the finest vocal instrument in all of contemporary popular music — it’s an overarching demonstration of stylistic variety. Never a natural fit for the genre restraints of the Nashville establishment during the 1990s heyday of his ostensibly country band the Mavericks, Malo has burst forth in multiple directions on his own in the last few years, issuing discs that have explored his Latin heritage, his folk/acoustic instincts, and his lounge-singer leanings.
Such diversity can make his shows an impressive tour de force, though it depends in part upon the venue. Seattle’s Triple Door is essentially a dinner theater, with large booths providing optimal viewing and listening but no room for dancing; as such, it brought out the best in Malo’s lounge material, while leaving his more upbeat fare feeling a little too hemmed in for the setting.
Malo opened squarely in classic crooner mode, delivering three numbers that recalled the glory days of smooth-and-sweet vocalists: “Indian Love Call” (with its trademark “When I’m calling you-oo-oo-oo-oo-oo” refrain), “Something Stupid” (perhaps most memorably rendered by Sinatra), and “A Fool Such As I” (immortalized by Elvis among others). His three-piece backing band — Robert Chevrier on piano, Jay Weaver on bass and Tom Lewis on drums — kept their support subtle, properly focusing the attention on the soaring flights of Malo’s voice.
He then moved on to somewhat more modern fare, showcasing three tunes from his 2006 album You’re Only Lonely. The title track, a top-10 hit for California country-rocker J.D. Souther in 1979, is the kind of aching, reaching ballad that Malo was born to sing. In a similar vein is Randy Newman’s poignant “Feels Like Home”, which Malo delivered with almost solely piano accompaniment. “Games That Lovers Play”, a minor 1960s hit for Eddie Fisher, was a slight comedown from those two but fit comfortably into the same frame.
Malo subsequently drew upon his Mavericks repertoire with the latin-tinged “Dance The Night Away” and a fairly straightforward turn on “Oh What A Cryin’ Shame”; later, he also sprinkled in Mavs faves “Fool #1” and “All You Ever Do Is Bring Me Down”. That he played more than fifteen songs not drawn from his old band, however, made it clear he has established his own identity separate from them (though Malo doesn’t seem inclined permanently to close the door on the Mavericks, given the remarkable return they made with their excellent self-titled 2004 disc).
As the show progressed, Malo spread his wings further — hitting a fever pitch with “Every Little Thing About You”, letting Chevrier sing lead on one song, even playing an instrumental number — but he never really eclipsed the show’s early portion when the material was best suited to the room. As such, his second-encore finale was a perfect choice: the Etta James signature tune “At Last” — classic, classy jazz, the vocals front-and-center. As it should be with Malo.