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Concert Review: Raul Malo Christmas Show at Antones in Austin

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When I go to a concert these days it’s as much a cultural experience as it is a musical experience, because as I get older I get more and more interested in observing the crowd at a concert as well as listening to the music. I like music, but I’m also fascinated by who else likes and listens to that music. So when I write a review it’s often as much a review of the venue, the audience and the overall concert going experience as it is of the performers on the stage.

Last night I headed in to downtown Austin to catch the first night of a two-night Christmas appearance from Latino-country-rockabilly crossover artist Raul Malo. The heavyset former lead singer of the Mavericks has a fantastic voice and a great stage presence and appeals to a wide range of fans with his mix of latin, country, rockabilly and tango sounds. I went under strange circumstances, tagging along with a group of lady bureaucrats on a holiday outing from my wife’s office and dragging my teenage daughter along as well. I’ve seen Malo before, but several things about this appearance were truly unique.

The concert was at Antone’s, Austin’s legendary home of the blues. If you don’t know how legendary Antone’s is, the well dressed ancient black guy selling CDs off a crate by the back exit was blues giant Pinetop Perkins who won a Grammy this year at the age of 95 and is headlining at Antone’s on Boxing Day. Every major blues act has played here going back more than 30 years. It was a regular venue for Stevie Ray Vaughn and has been a great showcase for other Austin area blues musicians.

The club moved from its original location on Guadalupe to downtown on 5th street a few years ago, but the new club is remarkably similar to the original. The same bars are in more or less the same position, though they’ve moved the stage to a more central location rather than at the back end of the hall. Back there they’ve now got VIP boxes where you can pay extra to be way too far from the music, but where you can actually hear the words of musical insight offered by your fellow VIPs.

The crowd was unlike any I’d seen at a Raul Malo concert before. He’s always had a broad appeal, but he seems to have broken through to an entirely new market, wealthy aging women looking for a Latino heartthrob — the cougar demographic.

It’s the first time I’ve been to a concert in years where I was one of the youngest people there — the largest concentration of people under 50 was on the stage. I’m still not sure how I feel about having my butt fondled by the drink-sloshing, lecherous soccer mom behind me. I admit that before I shaved my beard I looked a bit like Raul Malo’s slightly older, slightly thinner brother, but I’m still not used to getting pawed.

Yet what was really strange was that up-front where at most concerts the hot teen groupies hang out, was a whole swarm of women who were at least in their 60s. It was like the tango class from Westlake Country Club had all come down to the city on a field trip. Weirdest of all, they had all dragged their grey-headed CEO husbands along with them. While the big-haired cougars were dancing, their husbands stood behind them, unmoving, arms crossed and looking uncomfortable and wishing they could find a golf course or a boardroom where they could look more natural.

The star of the geriatric gyrator set was the one we nicknamed ‘Cougara’ because she had dressed the part in a tight, leopard-pattern mini-dress complimented by a zebra-pattern purse. She had an eerie resemblance to Irish actress Fionnula Flanagan from The Others, including the puffed up white hair, a style apparently popular only in Ireland and Texas.

I felt safer back by the bar, where I blended in with the youngsters of the night, those of us in the 40ish and 50ish age range, all dressed in our khaki slacks and untucked Hawaiian shirts — the full Miami look like David Zayas (Sgt. Angel Battista in Dexter) who bears a passing resemblance to Miami-native Malo himself.

Oh, and there was music. And it was very, very good. It really was the Christmas show it was billed as. In addition to his favorites like “Every Little Thing About You,” “Sway,” “Dance the Night Away,” and “I Said I Love You,” he cranked out a slew of Christmas songs from his 2007 album Marshmallow World and Other Holiday Favorites. He kicked it off with the title song about 4 songs into his set and I have to say that made for a rocky start on the Christmas music. “Marshmallow World” is a new contender for my list of the worst holiday songs of all time. But pretty soon he switched to classics like “Silent Night” and “Winter Wonderland” which went over much better. He also threw in some new songs from his forthcoming CD Lucky One including “Hello Again” which is his current single.

For me the best song of the night was his version of “Blue Christmas,” which reminded me that Malo’s voice is just a little bit better than the King’s (oh, sacrilege), and his more upbeat arrangement really takes the song to another level. Also striking was his performance of the Eddie Fisher classic “Games that Lovers Play,” a song which many Vegas lounge singers have mangled, but which Malo sang very much in the style of Roy Orbison and almost pulled off. There’s a high note in the chorus which Connie Francis hits in her version and which Orbison could have pulled off, but where Malo came up just a tiny bit short. It was still very impressive. He has the pipes to take on the very best and convince you he’s in the same league. The quality and timbre of his voice really is remarkable, and unlike some of the other great rock and roll singers he really can hold his own on the guitar as well.

Raul Malo’s combination of a great voice, a winning personality, strong guitar skills and sharp rock and roll arrangements of new and classic songs with a bit of latin flavor thrown in is enormously appealing. I didn’t realize that he and his music had this strange attraction for older women until this show, but just because they’re cougars looking for a new Elvis, that doesn’t mean they don’t have good taste in music too.

If you haven’t discovered Raul Malo yet, I’d recommend starting with his Live at Austin City Limits collection. He really is great live, the sound quality is excellent and it’s a kind of greatest hits CD so you can’t go wrong. And since it’s Christmas time, try the holiday album. It’s better than most of the alternatives.

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About Dave Nalle

Dave Nalle is Executive Director of the Texas Liberty Foundation, Chairman of the Center for Foreign and Defense Policy, South Central Regional Director for the Republican Liberty Caucus and an advisory board member at the Coalition to Reduce Spending. He was Texas State Director for the Gary Johnson Presidential campaign, an adviser to the Ted Cruz senatorial campaign, Communications Director for the Travis County Republican Party and National Chairman of the Republican Liberty Caucus. He has also consulted on many political campaigns, specializing in messaging. Before focusing on political activism, he owned or was a partner in several businesses in the publishing industry and taught college-level history for 20 years.
  • Stick to politics Dave. Nah, just kidding. Nice review, and I’m happy to know that you survived all of those “cougars.”


  • The Maverick’s “Cryin’ Shame” is one of the best written songs EVER – not a word or note out of place – none needed to be cut or added. I’d pay money to hear Raul Malo sing that one.

  • Glen, man does not live by politics alone.

    And yes, “Oh What a Crying Shame” is a damned fine song. Not the best song ever written, however. That honor remains reserved for “Up the Junction” by Squeeze.


  • aus

    was there, this review is on the accurate. and hilarious.

  • No, not the best song ever – don’t know what song takes that honour – but up there somewhere. I suppose if you wait long enough, someone will tell you it’s Stairway to Heaven, or Imagine. As for Squeeze, I’d have gone with the less obvious Separate Beds – absolutely beautiful and understated.

  • SouthBeachMary

    Glad you enjoyed the music. I caught Raul on his NYC leg of the tour and yes, he is an amazing performer who puts on a great show. I have to say though, your characterization of the crowd is condescending at best and does nothing to get your point across about the music.

    What makes you think that “wealthy aging women” are at his concerts “looking for a Latino heartthrob?” Could it be that maybe instead they’ve found someone who has an amazingly gifted voice and who is capable, in this day and age, of actually singing a song that you might want to hear…lyrics and all? I guess this line should have been a clue: “the cougar demographic.” C’mon Dave, using cliche’s to describe people is lazy writing. You manage to judge these women without any indication that you actually bothered to talk to them and find out what it is about Raul that they enjoy so much.

    If I can make a suggestion, next time, focus on the performance, which as ANY Raul fan knows, provides plenty of material to write about. This year’s annual Christmas party was amazing…with Raul giving it his all. I can’t help but think that his fans will be lucky to see him in these smaller venues next year. Maybe deep in their hearts, the “cougars” know this and just want dance the night away while they still can.

    All the best.

  • catwoman

    I tend to agree with southbeachmary. I actually think the review of the performance was nearly lost due to your rambling on about the demographic of the audience. I almost didn’t make it through the review because your characterization turned me right off.

    I am getting tired of older women being characterized as “cougars” – like they are only on the prowl – because they like to dance and have a good time. Some may be over the top but the majority are not. And for the record – a “cougar” is an older women (usually over 40) who prowls for MUCH younger men (at least 15 years younger) for a “relationship.”

    I am a tad bit older than Raul, and along with my husband, have been fans for about 20 years. We try go to all the concerts of his that we can because he is such a consummate performer. I know plenty of women both under and over age 50 who are simply enjoying one of the best singers in the market today. They are not going to rock in a chair – but on the dance floor because that is OUR kind of music and OUR kind of musician.

    I also think perhaps that Raul’s audience’s average age has probably gotten a bit older because of the last few albums he put out which were totally comprised of the standards. Younger people have no patience for the really good songs of days gone by – done by a superb voice that cannot be matched in today’s market.

  • Emily

    My Goodness Dave, no one can accuse you of trying to be politically correct, can they?. I was at the show, it wasn’t as bad as all that!!! What is wrong with folks of any age having a good time and enjoying themselves. I didn’t realize that when i get to my 40s+ (i’m 33) i shouldn’t be able to dance and swoon or cut up and if do it means i am an old lady after younger men. I seriously doubt all those ladies you seemed to think were after you was the reason you moved to the back, i think you need to chill out and learn how to let go and enjoy! I loved those ladies who were young at heart…shame on you for picking on a bunch of fun loving women whole sole problem was that they are old girls having fun.

  • Ladies, I’ve been to plenty of Raul Malo concerts before. They’re always great. Just writing how great the concert was doesn’t interest me and shouldn’t really interest you three if you’re already familiar with his music and performing style.

    What made this event noteworthy is that unlike previous Malo concerts I’ve attended it was distinguished by having a different kind of audience, and that was interesting beyond just the music.

    I’m hardly picking on the ladies in the audience. They were having fun, and they had the decency to drag their buttoned-up husbands along, which was also interesting.

    Catwoman, I characterized them as ‘cougars’ primarily because of the way the one I described in more detail was dressed. Just trying to have a little fun and paint the scene for those who weren’t there.


  • Emily

    Alright Dave, i see you were kidding, yanno
    nothing gets ladies panties in a wad faster than calling us old!! 😉

    Glad to see Raul getting lots of love from everyone, he deserves it.

  • catwoman

    Okay, Dave – I guess I can understand your point. It’s just that it immediately got my hackles up because I am more sensitive to the overuse/abuse of the word COUGAR these days.

    And what I expected as a concert review was focused on that and then, almost as an after thought, “Oh yeah, that boy can sing, too.”

    I am a big “people watcher” myself – especially at concerts since I go to many of different types every year. I am often surprised by the demographic of an audience myself.