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Irish Tour: Calexico


You may be aware of Calexico from Tucson, Arizona. Their many, many records may be in your peripheral vision, or you may have heard the band of uber-talented multi-instrumentalists lend atmosphere to the soundtracks of Dead Man’s Shoes, Collateral and The Guard. However, you will not have truly experienced Calexico until you have seen them play a concert, where their music bristles and blares and is full of infectious vibrancy. Not content to take the easy route of playing the latest album song by song, exactly as they sound on said album, or trotting out a set-list of greatest hits, Calexico perform an entirely different gig each and every night of the tour. This is not only because they have such a polyphonic back catalogue from which to draw (including their latest full-length release, the quite wonderful Edge Of The Sun) but also because they intuitively respond to the mood of a particular crowd who are present at any given venue. Consequently, at tonight’s hooley the eerie ‘Black Heart’ becomes a brooding, murky affair swirling with minor chords and dangerous intent; ‘Fortune Teller’ is a largely acoustic solo performance from frontman Joey Burns; and ‘Minas De Cobre (For Better Metal)’, beefy with horns, segues neatly into ‘All Systems Red’. The titles of the songs alone should indicate the range of influences and cultures clashing into one another, shooting out sparks as they do so. Famously, Calexico are known for melding Latin rhythms with Alt. Country guitars, pedal steel and dustbowl reverb, all of which are anchored by John Convertino’s seemingly effortless drum patterns. He is a hugely impressive rhythmist, and it is no slight on his fellow players to say that he is in many ways the pulse that makes their music so compelling.


That said, there is clearly a democracy at work. While the core of the band is formed by the long-held relationship between Burns and Convertino, who years ago contributed to Giant Sand, everyone else gets a chance to shine. Opener ‘Frontera / Trigger’ and closer ‘Güero Canelo’ are propelled by brass and Spanish guitars, and there is a lovely moment in the ubiquitous cover of Love’s ‘Alone Again Or’ when Martin Wenk and Jacob Valenzuela play rock, paper scissors to decide who will take the trumpet solo. Mariachi-tinged numbers such as ‘Cumbia De Donde’, with its insistent bass-line, buzzing synths and syncopated rhythms, provide the highlights, as there is nothing quite like seeing a roomful of normally reserved Northern Irish folk transform into a swaying, hip-swivelling mass, enthusiastically mangling the Spanish language. It may not quite be Mardi Gras but the party atmosphere is irresistible. Clearly wanting their audience to have a good time, and appearing as they are having a good time themselves, the band whoop and holler and raise their index fingers aloft. It’s a delightful thing, and a million miles away from the aloof behaviour of those nonplussed chumps who barely acknowledge the audience’s presence. How lovely it is to be transported to rowdier, less mercifully cold and wet climes, if only for a brief evening. Inside the Limelight, there are outlaws, rattlesnakes, tequila and dried-up rivers, and people are shedding their clothes, and someone’s calling the police, and two love rivals have drawn their pistols and… well, yes this may be fiction but the music emanating from the stage convinces us that it is real. Ross Thompson

Belfast by Sara Marsden

Dublin by Isabel Thomas

is the co-editor / photo editor. She also contributes photos and illustrations to The Thin Air print magazine.