Calexico at Granada Theater: Review

Last night, Calexico delivered a performance as expansive and dramatic as the Southwestern landscape and people from which the band draws so much of its inspiration. In turn the audience -- and the Granada itself -- gave back to the band all required to make the evening a memorable one for the performers.

The curtain rose at 10 p.m. to reveal a stage more cramped and cluttered with instruments than seen in past performances. Attribute this in large measure to addition of keyboardist Sergio Mendoza to the touring band. As Calexico launched into "Epic," the opening track of the new album Algiers, it was clear that a band that had always sounded big on stage had now grown to enormous proportions.

Led by the soaring vocals and rhythmic strumming of Joey Burns, the seven-piece band grabbed the audience by the chin and held it for the next nearly two hours. Whether you were there to dance, party or to watch the superb but subtle craft of drummer John Convertino or steel guitarist Paul Neihaus, the band delivered.

Following the set opener, the band switched to the twin mariachi trumpets of "Across the Wire," setting a pattern of mixing familiar gems from across their catalog into a set that focused on Algiers. The impact of the addition of the agile Mendoza was evident on songs like "Splitter," and as the set progressed, on cumbias or spaghetti Western soundtracks like "Minas De Cobre" (complete with train horn intro).

For the audience, the more Latin, the better. Trumpeter Jacob Valenzuela's Spanish-sung "Inspriacion" was a clear crowd favorite. Encouraged to clap or sing by Burns, Louis Valenzuela, or Berlin's unlikely mariachi multi-instrumentalist Martin Wenk, the crowd responded with abandon. A personal highlight was the dark "Para," with Burns playing his vintage white Aliner guitar -- so loaded with pickups and knobs it was almost cartoonish -- and drummer Convertino playing with rare abandon.

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The band ended the initial set with "Puerto" 80 minutes after they started, and the crowd demanded more. During the four-song encore, an extremely happy Burns gave praise to the audience and the venue. Acknowledging that there are lots of pretty theaters across the country, he asserted that few sound quite as good as the Granada, which to Burns ears "singing" last night. Combined with the enthusiasm of the crowd, he felt like he was "in Paris." As the lights came up, he offered up one more song, "The Vanishing Mind from Algiers," with its final double bass notes spiraling down. It brought a fitting closure to the night.

Opening the set was Toronto's Bahamas, an unlikely name for a Canadian four-member band. Their instrumentation was only a single electric guitar and drum kit, supplemented with two girls providing backing harmonies. The band delivered an intimate set -- guitarist/vocalist Afie Jurvanen wrung amazing tone from his guitar. A little research revealed he plays guitar supporting Feist, and on reflection the musical connection is clear. The band underscored how opening acts can be a revelation to concert-goers that too often don't make the time or effort to hear them.

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