According to Joe Whyte, Calexico live can best be described as ‘Calexico’. Read on for his thoughts on their recent gig at Glasgow’s ABC.
Americana and Glasgow have always had a close relationship. Maybe it’s something to do with gazing from rainy shores to the promised land across the Atlantic, maybe it’s the generations whose grandparents record collections were all country music, maybe it’s just that Glaswegians have an affinity with music that’s as arid, dry and desert – dusty as our city is claustrophobic, industrial grey and grim.
Whatever the reasons, Calexico have been playing to growing crowds in Glasgow since 2000’s Hot Rail and tonight’s Friday night bunch are well versed in Calexico’s stock-in-trade of mariachi-flavoured cinematic soundscapes.
Opening the set with Epic sets the tone right away: Joey Burns’ rich, chocolate voice and Iberian-style acoustic are beautifully matched by some sweet electric piano, pedal steel and lead guitar from the 8-piece band. Lead guitarist (and multi-instrumentalist) Martin Wenk in particular is a man, who despite looking distinctly uncomfortable in his own skin, lends the band a real gravitas with his spare and delicious playing. At times, particularly during winding road tale Dead Moon, his guitar has something of David Gilmour’s sparse, bluesy feel. This is a compliment, incidentally.
Not Even Stevie Nicks shows a slightly different side to Calexico: the soaring vocal of Burns and comrade John Convertino’s spare drums hint at their previous stint in Giant Sand prior to that bands’ original line-ups rather acrimonious parting of the ways.
At times tonight, I’m left wondering what some of these sprawling, searching songs would sound like as collaboration with Giant Sand mainstay Howe Gelb. Unfortunately, I guess we’ll never know.
The horn section of Jacob Valenzuela et al lends Sunken Waltz an unmistakeable filmic quality which is woven through tonight’s set. A cover of Love’s Alone Again Or just sounds so right; giving Arthur Lee’s original a bit of bite amongst its rich, chiming chords.
Mid-way through (I think!) Sinner In The Sea, Calexico effortlessly slide into Joy Division’s Love Will Tear Us Apart and it doesn’t sound out of place at all. Burn’s vocal delivery is all pain and pride and it sits well amongst the gravitas of the song.
If someone asked you to describe Calexico, it would be difficult to put them in any kind of genre. How do you describe something so downright late night lonely but at the same time so epic-sounding?
Let’s just describe them as Calexico.
One of a kind.
All words by Joe Whyte. More work by Joe on Louder Than War can be found here.
Photo by Paul Kerr.