Calexico, The Acorn November 8, 2008 Granada Theater
Better than: Eating some peyote, playing with a couple of rattlesnakes and doing other desert-related leisure pursuits.
More photos are up in our slideshow here.
After spending most of a beautiful fall afternoon cutting down trees in my backyard, what better respite from the middle-class blues could I find than catching the windswept sounds of Calexico at the Granada Theater?
About 500 or so well-dressed folks made their way to Lower Greenville to immerse themselves in the multicultural musings of Joey Burns, John Convertino and the eclectic duo’s crew of able sidemen.
Concentrating on Carried to Dust, Calexico’s most recent effort, the band continued to mine that fertile mix of '50s pop, spaghetti western-influenced alt-country and Latin-tinged jazz. New songs such as “Two Silver Trees,” “Bend in the Road” and “El Gatillo (Trigger Revisited)” fit flawlessly alongside classic older fare like “Quattro” and “Black Heart.”
Featuring two trumpet players (one who doubled on marimba), this touring edition of Calexico may well be the tightest version ever assembled. Burns’ nasally vocals soared over the deceptively simple backdrop of steel guitar, percussion and accordion. “Sunken Waltz,” from the band’s best record, 2003’s Feast of Wire, filled the vast area of The Granada with themes of frontier exploration, turn of the century inventiveness and south of the border chutzpa.
“Tossed a Susan B over my shoulder,” sang Burns as if he were some kind of nerdy time traveler, cohabitating numerous eras like a normal person would walk around his own home.
Toward the end of the night, Calexico did “Alone Again Or,” the perfectly suited late '60s chestnut from Arthur Lee and Love. The song has been covered before (legendary English Punks The Damned do a damned good version as well), but in the hands of Burns and Convertino, the number comes across as quintessential Calexico. Images of every one from '50s icons Bobby Darin and Dion to country stalwarts Johnny Cash to indie rock pioneers Sonic Youth all reverberated in the epic sweep that Calexico generating on this evening.
Critic’s Notebook Personal Bias: I was born in Tucson, Arizona, hometown of Calexico, so I’ve always felt a special kinship with the band’s music. Sparse, rustic, seemingly full of dust and emotional debris, the songs of Joey Burns and John Convertino merge the grandiose romanticism of Marty Robbins with the alt-rock know-how of Brian Eno. Few folks are aware of the quality of music that has come out of Arizona over the years. Both Burns and Convertino played with Tucson native Howe Gelb in Giant Sand (who performed an impressive opening set before Neko Case a few months back). Those with good memories might recall bands like Naked Prey, Green on Red and The Sidewinders, Tucson bands of the '80s who are well worth checking out.
Random Note: An attractive (but a bit too skinny for my taste) speech therapist was fairly representative of the NPR nature of the crowd. Swaying and (kind of) dancing during the more Latin-laced cuts, the undernourished young woman was quite content hanging in the back asking, “Is this song on the new album?”
By The Way: Canadian indie folk act The Acorn put on a sublime opening set. Frontman Rolf Klausener certainly knows his way around a subtle melody and the dual drummer backing creates an interesting tribal ambiance. Towards the end of The Acorn’s set, I heard from two Texas A&M alums (Bethany and Jason) who, while bemoaning their football teams’ loss to Oklahoma, enjoyed the 45 minutes of The Acorn. Intriguing and not easily identifiable, the quickly paced set was the harbinger of good things to come. --Darryl Smyers