Wednesday, June 14, 2006

horses and a fresh bottle


Last night was Calexico, joined by Black Heart Procession and Salvador Duran. This was my first night of live music since Coachella, which would be embarrassing if I could say I'd passed on a show that I really wanted to see since then. Yep, not to be a snob or a sloth but, well, I'm going to be a little bit of both. Hey, I'm a newly married man and I have a vivid recollection of the '80s (and parts of the '70s, for that matter). Seeing just any random show for the sake of seeing a show doesn't need to happen as often anymore.

HOWever, I do love me some Calexico. I'm not sure when that love really took hold--I think it may've been during the tour with Iron & Wine where they were trying out new material from the then-unreleased "Garden Ruin." It was that show where the Tucson band--at least to my mind--crossed over from an engaging southwestern-flavored curio to a multifaceted, genre-hopping powerhouse that can pull off anything from mariachi to straight-up pop to chaotic space rock--and all in a 45 minute set. (And, by the way, if you don't yet have "Garden Ruin," you really should.)

Opening the show was Black Heart Procession, who, to be fair, I certainly should like. They're moody, they're atmospheric, they sing about sad and probably morbid things and they do so bathed in blue and purple light. But for whatever reason I can't help pegging them as San Diego's Calexico but without the chops. Black Heart's a little more noir, sure, but all in all they just haven't grabbed me beyond a song or two. They're better live than on CD--particularly their more energetic, rock-geared side--but for the most part their midtempo stuff all started blending together. Working the bowed saw into your sound can do that. Although, I have to say, their look surprised me. For some reason a press photo of theirs from years past had me thinking they'd look like a Cuban lounge act (again, by way of San Diego), but in reality they were a lot more bearded and scruffed up than that. In fact, when the lead singer wasn't playing that saw or his guitar his long hair, gruff beard and sunglasses made the band briefly resemble a biker bar karaoke. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

"Why I Stay," by Black Heart Procession

Calexico, on the other hand, were solid. Their show hadn't changed much since that Iron & Wine date, though they did add a terrific guitar-driven detour midway through "Not Even Stevie Nicks" that was just gargantuan, and only assisted by a huge video screen projecting black and white footage of racing accidents. With horns, vibraphone, upright bass, and the occasional pedal steel, Calexico's blending of musical traditions doesn't feel like trying on a costume or searching for some exotic drama to back their songwriting; it's a genuine celebration.

Another nice surprise was the addition of Salvador Duran, who you may remember from his booming, oddly left-field contribution to "In the Reins." A beaming Joey Burns introduced him saying they had brought him along to "blow your mind," and after this 50-something Mexican man in a suit softly announced this was his first time in California he performed three songs that transformed the Henry Fonda Theater into a smoky ranchera bar in Monterrey. His fingers flickered across his guitar strings, his voice soared through the theater, and when his feet weren't stomping an amplified beat against a wooden box his mouth was somehow creating barnyard noises in time with the song. Joey Burns knew what he was talking about.

Calexico closed their set with one of Duran's original songs, which I'll surely misadentify as son if I try and place its roots, but suffice to say it involved an hypnotic call-and-response chorus between Duran and Burns, and you couldn't help but move along with it. For that night and at that moment, the border was a little closer.

And that's the beauty of Calexico, particularly during a time when parties are considering stringing a fence along the border not far from Calexico's home town. All this fear of people and languages and culture crossing from one side to the other without permission, but in their world, in the Henry Fonda theater that night, there were no borders, no need for fences. Just people, their music, and a good time. Powerful stuff.

Here's a sampling:

"Flathanded and on the Wing," by Calexico
(very noirish and sparse instrumental from the tour-only "Travelall"--yes it's 13 minutes and yes it's worth it)

"Crystal Frontier," by Calexico
(jangly and anthemic road music, from the tour-only "Aerocalexico"

Buy these from Calexico's site


At 1:52 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey, I was there and you're right, that show kicked ass! Those Blackheart guys are on to something. Solid melodies floating around some very well-crafted songs. They just need to realize that sometimes it's OK to let go.

At 7:55 PM, Blogger chris said...

Absolutely. There were a couple of songs that I know were about to go someplace really interesting and get huge and dissonant and that's when they shut it down. Maybe one more album will do the trick.

At 11:15 AM, Blogger briana said...

I was poking around for other people's impression of the show and found you blog - very cool:

Blackheart Procession seemed to be working the alt-country/metal angle, and for what it was it woorked. I did, however, comment to my friend that a small methamphetamine habit might improve the lead singer's stage presence...

I agree Calexico played a stellar show (as usual) and Salvador Duran was a treat - what hutzspa that guy has! I was a tiny bit disapointed that they didn't infact include Crystal Frontier in the set, but all the other oldies and goodies were in there.

Hope you had a chance to check out the tiny scaled down in-store (sans Convertino) that they played at Amoeba a couple months back. They put just as much energy into that as they do playing a theater - they are honnest to god musicians, for sure.

At 1:22 PM, Blogger chris said...

People were definitely split on Black Heart. A couple of people turned and yelled at me "Who was that? GOD! I almost fell asleep!" I wouldn't go that far, but they definitely should mix it up with the tempos and the lighting. A tip: Don't pass around a bottle of whiskey onstage if it's just going to make everyone sleepy.

NO, I missed that instore, unfortunately. I'd heard it was great. Everything those guys do is just solid. Hopefully you caught their date with Iron&Wine. That was one of the best shows I'd ever seen, like The Last Waltz for a pair of bands who were taking off instead of calling it quits. Phenomenal--though again, no Crystal Frontier.


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