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Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Calexico at Stubbs

I stumbled upon Calexico at the 2004 ACL Fest and standing under the sweltering heat of that day, I was immediately enthralled with their ability to create a sonic landscape that sounds the way the southwestern deserts look. Listening to them that day, I heard traces of country, mariachi, western swing, surf rock, spaghetti western soundtracks, electronic experimentation, jazzy improv, well-controlled guitar noise, and acoustic folk produced by a large group of musicians many of whom were multi-instrumentalists. And an upright bass, a welcome change of pace outside the jazz world. The music was big and lonely and utterly captivating. By the end of the month, my wife and I had collected all of their CDs, and ever since then they've been in constant rotation on the stereo and in the cars, especially The Black Light and Feast of Wire.

Last spring, we went to see them when they were opening for Ozomatli and Los Lonely Boys at The Back Yard. Sadly that was a bust for us, since due to horrible traffic and a parking fiasco, we only caught the last two songs of their set. What we heard from the parking lot was great, and Ozomatli turned out to be an interesting show (we left before Los Lonely Boys) so it wasn't a total loss.

Finally, last Sunday night, we made it to see a (sort of) Calexico show at Stubbs BBQ. I say "sort of" only because the headline portion of the show was Calexico with Iron & Wine supporting their recent collaboration. Calexico came on after a quick set by Edith Frost and started out a bit too folk-y for our tastes. This is a band that is capable of substantial musical exploration, but the incarnation that started was to me the least interesting version of Calexico. It works for me on CD, but when I see live music, I want to see a band stretch out a bit, as I know Calexico can.

As the set progressed, my allergies began to get the better of me (as they do every time I am foolish enough to stand around outdoors in October) and disappointment began to set in. About halfway through the set though (at "Alone Again Or"), things changed. Charlie Sexton joined them on stage and they began to play more like the Calexico that I love...mariachi horns, Spanish rhythms, the hints of surf rock, the country twang, all creating that impression that when someone opens the first country bar on the moon, it will be a regular gig for Calexico.

The remainder of their set was well worth the price of admission and exactly what I was hoping to hear. We left before Iron & Wine and the joint set primarily because of a combination of allergies and what I'll call end-of-daylight-savings-time exhaustion that on a Sunday night was more powerful than a desire for more music. Of course, I did pick up two of their tour-only CDs, Scraping, and The Book and the Canal. So far, I've listened to most of the former, and only the first few tracks of the latter. Overall, I'm pleased, but I'm still waiting for an actual Calexico (as the headliner and primary draw) show. Not during October, please.

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Blogger Nikki said...

Great review of the show. I was there and I felt the same way. I talked my boyfriend into going by describing Calexico as really energetic and I could tell during the first half that he was really bored and thought he'd been tricked but by the end we were both really into it.

2:08 PM  
Blogger Humored said...

You should have stayed for Iron & Wine. Sam Beam and company were great. And the combined set was fantastic as well. I didn't realize this, but apparently Sam has recently moved to the Austin area. Yet another great musician takes up residence here.

By the way, what about Edith Frost? No offense but she almost put me to sleep.

3:18 PM  
Blogger James said...

Thanks. It certainly came to life in the second half. It's nice to know I'm not the only one that felt that way. I hope you created a new Calexico fan.

On another night (not Sunday) I most likely would have stayed. I'd been listening to some Iron & Wine that a friend loaned me and I did like it, but alas sometimes one must put health and well being above a great show (sadly). On the Edith Frost front, I agree. My wife and I just people watched and ho-hummed.

3:33 PM  

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