Friday, December 08, 2006

Calexico A-Go-Go

Ennio Morricone. You have to say those two mellifluous words to start talking about Calexico, but then it's very important that you don't stop. For they sure haven't, as they more than proved in a rousing, pleasing show at SoHo in Santa Barbara last night. Sure, they've got the CinemaScope western feel down pat, with pedal steel and Spanish guitar and marimba and accordion and mariachi horns, but even with those flavorings, they can swing some and sensuous or rip wild and loud. They even can send feedback a-squallin' so much they'll blow the lime well into your Corona, but they do that judiciously, and surprisingly, taking "Not Even Stevie Nicks," rather simple and sweet on CD, and sneaking a rip-snorting bridge into it that not even Lindsey Buckingham could come up with (and he's the artsy one). After all, among their covers they play the Minutemen, but Joey Burns announces, "Because they were corndogs and proud of it--I can relate," before kicking into "Corona."

Burns isn't your usual frontman, for as much as he's got guitar chops, and a variety of chops at that (stately and staccato Latino to fuzzed and frenetic electric), his voice isn't the strongest--it works best to evoke rather than emote. (Indeed, multi-instrumentalist Jacob Valenzuela took top vocal honors on his couple of Spanish numbers, including then encore "Ojitos Traidores" from the Los Super 7 album Heard It on the X.) But Burns is good at drier than the Tucson he's from patter, especially his rejoinder to a fan who was a bit annoying stage-side, "Glad to be at your party, thanks for having us."

But it was a party, and by the end even the typically tempo-challenged Santa Barbara crowd could clap in time and sway about (it was standing room only, even with the Independent holdiay party drawing away much of the show's most likely audience down at El Paseo). A large part of the rhythm comes from drummer extraordinaire John Convertino, for whom no 4/4 can't get a bit of a fillip to make it more fun. It's certainly clear why Burns and Convertino have been so in demand as session players for folks like Neko Case, or the heart to the manic head of Howe Gelb in Giant Sand for a glorious decade plus run. They don't just play anything, they play with anything, even their own songs. I have to admit their latest studio disc Garden Ruin is too much garden and not even not ruin for me--Calexico works best when cultures and chords all meet, crash, but never crash in their songs. Still, the show's version of "Letter to a Bowie Knife" from that album proves they haven't lost their rocky modulated pitch. Plus they performed songs from all throughout their career, since they don't have a career, they have a cult, and we wouldn't want it any other way. Which means, yes, they did a horn-honking version of Love's "Andmoreagain" [ed. note: it was "Alone Again Or," see comments] and it was completely catchy, corndog, Calexico.

Opening act The Broken West at first made me want to make the crack if you take the Old 97's and subtract the 88s you don't necessarily end up on Cloud 9, but then they took a turn for Wilco and didn't look back. We're talking Wilco in the Summer Teeth era, my personal favorite, but thinking about them after the Calexico set does them no favors.


Anonymous James said...

They did wonderful things with "Not Even Stevie Nicks..." when I saw them at ACL Fest a few months ago. They're probably my favorite band to see live right now.

5:25 AM  
Anonymous James said...

Well, not right now, but rather these days...

5:26 AM  
Blogger Miss Violet said...

Thanks for a great review of a great show! (And, if I can add this without seeming to nitpick, the Love song they covered was Alone Again Or.) Violet

9:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

Oops, you're definitely correct, Miss Violet. I think I just like writing "Andmoreagain" all smashed up like that.

9:38 AM  

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