From my earliest memories, I’ve lived my life with a soundtrack running in the background. The holiest moments of my life have been accompanied by music, leaving an indelible mark upon the memory. On very rare occasions, I’ve encountered musicians of such extraordinary talent that cherished memories are created by simply experiencing their music. Above and beyond any doubt, the master of this phenomenon is Raul Malo.
Having seen his show many times, I told myself that there was really no need to get tickets the next time he came to town. Then, I read he was booked at Sam’s Burger Joint in San Antonio. Okay, I said to myself, I’ve never seen Raul at Sam’s, I’ll go to that show. A couple of weeks later, I read that he was going to be at Antone’s. Well, there’s no point in seeing him twice, I thought to myself. But as the date approached, I kept thinking What a Crying Shame it would be to miss him when he was in Austin. What else did I have on my agenda for Tuesday night? What if something really amazing happened and I missed it? I really do love his music, so… I found my way to Antone’s on Tuesday night and Sam’s Burger Joint on Wednesday night to see his shows.
Raul has scores of women fans, many of whom love him fanatically. They flock to him, unable to resist his magnetic draw. In my world, this is immediate grounds to avoid him like the plague. I’m not THAT girl. (If you read my Tab Benoit post, you know my feelings on being THAT girl.) So, I told myself I was going to these shows to watch the spectacle. I would stand in the back, not crowd the stage. I’d enjoy the music and watch with icy disdain as all THOSE girls acted silly.
He opened both shows with a knee-weakening version of Bruce Channel’s Hey! Baby. Let me say this: Raul’s musical range is truly astounding, but this man is a born crooner. The rich timber of his voice, combined with his natural showmanship, is irresistible. Having effectively ensnared most of the women (and a few of the men) in a warm, happy place with the magical vibrations created during Hey! Baby, he deftly moved to songs off his most recent albums, Lucky One and Sinners and Saints.
He’s put together an especially winning combination of musical talent for his backing band. Michael Guerra provides stirring harmonies, and a dash of conjunto with accordion; Elio Giordano plays neck-bobbing stand up bass. Kullen Fuchs is the renaissance man of the group, a born multi-tasker. He plays keys, xylophone and trumpet, and on more than one occasion I saw him playing keys with one hand while wailing away on the trumpet. Impressive! John McTigue has been Raul’s drummer for a while now, and I think he may actually be a robot. Not only is he a damn machine at keeping steady time, but when he gets in that special drummer zone, he breathes out on every “3”.
He moved from new material to old, and every once in a while, he would exhale another crooning tune, such as O What A Thrill, or the devastating Sombras Nada Mas, and those who were close to regaining their sensibilities were pulled back into their trance. By the time he ended the shows with Every Little Thing About You, I was emotionally exhausted: I had experienced the best and worst of love, danced and drank, wept and laughed.
It’s easy to recall this experience while sitting in the relative safety of my office, far removed from the enslaving experience of his live performances. You can listen to his records, you can watch him on You Tube, but none of these acts can convey the true magic of hearing him live. And what is it about Romance languages? Utter a well spoken phrase in Spanish or Italian and suddenly I'm Jamie Lee Curtis in A Fish Called Wanda with my eyes rolled back in my head; talk about an Achilles Heel. Truly, at Antone’s or Sam’s, he could have led me off a cliff with nary a whimpered protest from my lips. He’s a male siren with the ability to call susceptible souls straight to their doom between the Scylla and Charybdis. I may have tried to protect myself by standing well back, but there was simply not enough room in those venues to find a safe distance. I was still well and truly caught under his spell. Again.
You know, I kind of hate him for making me abandon my THAT girl principles. He knows, however, that all he has to do is smile that dimpled smile, turn his sparkling gaze in my direction, and belt out one of those killer ballads, and my transformation from impervious cynic to THAT girl is a foregone conclusion. And every time he plays a show in Central Texas, I'll be there, trying to hold on to my wits and failing spectacularly.