It’s a joy to behold what the musicians in Calexico are capable of — not just the band’s core members (singer Joey Burns and drummer John Convertino) but the whole ensemble of players they’ve brought together to realize their vision. The distinctively Southwestern group played two sold-out shows this past weekend at Lincoln Hall; I was there on Sunday night, May 31.
With a few multi-instrumentalists in the lineup, Calexico feels almost like a miniature orchestra, and the music ran the gamut from exquisite folk ballads to spiky guitar riffs. But more than anything else, Calexico’s songs, both old and new, had jumpy, lively, layered rhythms that made you want to move. The tunes from Calexico’s outstanding new album, Edge of the Sun, sounded just as good as the old ones from records including the classic 2003 album Feast of Wire. And as Calexico often does, it played a wonderful cover of Love’s “Alone Again Or.”
Thanks to my friend Paul Suwan for putting together this set list of what Calexico played on Sunday:
Falling from the Sky / Quattro (World Drifts In) / Cumbia de Donde / Splitter / Woodshed Waltz / Miles from the Sea / Coyoacán / Inspiración / Bullets and Rocks / Tapping on the Line / Woven Birds / unknown instrumental / When the Angels Played / Deep Down / Alone Again Or / Crystal Frontier / FIRST ENCORE: Beneath the City of Dreams / Guero Canelo / SECOND ENCORE: Follow the River
Gaby Moreno, a Guatemalan singer-songwriter, played a beguiling opening set, singing solo as she plucked her acoustic guitar. Later in the night, Moreno — who sings on the new Calexico album — came back onto the stage to add backup vocals during Calexico’s encore.
Has Calexico mellowed into some sort of Tex-Mex lite rock? Some people apparently think so, after a cursory listen to the band’s latest CD, Garden Ruin. While the record does have more than its share of quiet moments, it has some rockers, too, and this album’s a grower.
And in concert, on June 23 at Metro, Calexico is just as fiery and nimble as ever. It was another top-notch performance by Calexico tonight. Joey Burns is sort of an assuming frontman — not super showy — but that just adds to feeling that this one-time duo has truly become a full-fledged band. Especially impressive is that German/Latino duo swapping instruments all night long — trumpets, vibes, keyboards, guitar, accordion, percussion — those guys (Martin Wenk and Jacob Valenzuela) are great. John Convertino got some excellent rattlesnake noises out of the drum kit.
There were a lot of old songs, plus a good sample from the new record. “Bisbee Blue” and “Letter to Bowie Knife” sounded especially good, as did the Feast of Wire tunes like “Not Even Stevie Nicks” (that one veered off into a new section that sounded much different from the studio version). Calexico also played its nice cover of Love’s “Alone Again Or,” and during the encore, opening act Jason Collett and a bunch of other musicians came onstage for Bob Dylan’s “Gotta Serve Somebody.” Other guest musicians included Doug McCombs of Tortoise and Eleventh Dream Day sitting in on guitar for a few songs and Chicago’s go-to guy on trumpet, Dave “Max” Crawford (who’s also a bartender at Metro… nice to see him on the stage there for a change).
A screen behind the band showed grainy footage of bullfights, horses wading through water and demolition derbies. It was just grainy and abstract enough to work as a nice visual backdrop without being too distracting, and it matched Calexico’s Southwestern vibe perfectly.
I don’t know the solo music of Jason Collett, who opened the concert, but it sounded pretty darn good. Mellow pop taken up a notch by some talented musicians (including guest players from the Stills, who were in town for Intonation Fest.)