Two episodes in to unprecedented no-audience territory for "Austin City Limits," one common thread has emerged: So far, the show’s tapings for its 46th season have featured spectacular singers.
Eclectic country band the Mavericks took to the ACL Live stage on Tuesday evening with a nine-musician crescent surrounding golden-voiced leader Raul Malo, one of the great American vocalists of his time. The Mavericks followed Rufus Wainwright, whose Oct. 10 taping of the iconic PBS music program showcased his own deeply emotional singing. (The bar was set high back in January with the season 46 kickoff taping of rising star Yola, a recent Grammy best new artist nominee who’s right up there with Malo and Wainwright in terms of pure talent as a singer.)
The absence of an audience — "Austin City Limits" recently decided to proceed with season 46 tapings without a crowd amid the coronavirus pandemic — felt a little less surreal on this second go-round. Unlike Wainwright’s taping, the Mavericks’ performance was publicly livestreamed on the show’s YouTube channel, where fans responded with joyous cheers and applause-emojis in the accompanying live chat.
Unusual as it was to hear the Mavericks deliver a tour-de-force rendition of "Every Little Thing About You" — a song from Malo’s 2001 solo debut that has since become a highlight of the Mavericks’ sets — to a silent room, the band seemed to be enjoying every moment of their 80-minute performance. "It’s a pleasure and an honor to be on this stage, even without an audience," Malo confirmed near the end of the night.
The band’s set focused on material from its new record "En Español," the first-ever Spanish-language Mavericks album. The seven songs they chose from "En Español" included the mood-establishing opener "La Sitiera," which gradually unfolded from a Malo electric guitar riff to a full-band bloom highlighting horns and accordion; the Julio Iglesias hit "Me Olvide de Vivir," recast with a country-folk vibe that recalled John Hartford’s classic "Gentle on My Mind"; and "Cuando Me Enamoro," which put a spotlight on backing singer Lisset Diaz of the Cuban band Sweet Lizzy Project.
READ MORE: Our interview with Raul Malo about "En Español"
Diaz’s harmonies were a splendid addition to the four core Mavericks members — Malo, guitarist Eddie Perez, keyboardist Jerry Dale McFadden and drummer Paul Deakin — plus their supporting cast of bassist Ed Friedland, horn players Julio Diaz and Max Abrams, percussionist/trumpeter Lorenzo Molina and accordion player Michael Guerra. Malo gave her special props for helping him to write some of the original material on "En Español" that supplemented the Spanish-language classics the band reimagined for the album.
"Every Little Thing About You" was the furthest back in their catalog that the Mavericks ventured on this night — understandably so, as the band had played many of its early hits on "Austin City Limits" in 1995 and 2000 but had not appeared on the show since then. They chose three tracks from 2013’s "In Time," a comeback album of sorts after a nearly decade-long hiatus, and touched on 2017’s "Brand New Day" with the track "Easy As It Seems."
They played nothing from 2015’s "Mono," though that album’s concluding track, a cover of Doug Sahm’s "Nitty Gritty," might have been perfect for the occasion. But they had their own special salute to "Austin City Limits" history in their pocket. Last year’s covers record "Play the Hits" included a rendition of the Fred Rose classic "Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain" made famous largely by Willie Nelson’s 1975 recording of the tune. The band stepped away mid-show as Malo delivered the song solo acoustic, and suddenly the empty room felt even more intimate.
Malo prefaced the number with a few heartfelt thoughts. "We know under different circumstances, there’d be a room filled with sweaty beautiful people," he said. "We’ll get back to that again someday, I believe. But for now, we do this."
Tuesday’s taping will be edited down to an hourlong episode of "Austin City Limits" that will air Nov. 21 on PBS stations nationwide.
RELATED: ’ACL’ announces PBS airdates for first part of 46th season