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.