Gig Review: Calexico, Liverpool Academy, 3rd November 2006

Last week was a bad one for the Indie Credential household. On Thursday afternoon our cat, Spook, died after being hit by a car outside our house and we were in no mood to go to the Sufjan Stevens gig at the Academy 2 later that evening. We buried her the next day wrapped in my old Galaxie 500 t-shirt (she was named after a Galaxie 500 song) and decided that we should make the trip over to Liverpool to see if Calexico could lift us out of the doldrums.

Opening were A Hawk And A Hacksaw, which is Jeremy Barnes, formerly of Neutral Milk Hotel, with violinist Heather Trost. They play mostly instrumental Bavarian folk music and were quite compelling. Barnes was kitted out like a one man band, playing an accordian and with cymbals between knees, a drumstick taped to one knee and another attached to his large woolly hat, which itself was encrusted in jingly bells so that he could throw his head to the right to hit another large cymbal. As drummer with Neutral Milk Hotel, Barnes was incredible to watch, a constant ball of energy, his tongue permanently hanging from the side of his mouth in his intense concentration. He’s much calmer these days but just as entertaining. The music managed to be both joyous and sad at the same time as if celebrating our current state of despondency. Towards the end the duo were joined by a few friends to put on a rousing finale to their set that went some way to cheering us up before the arrival of Calexico.

We’d already seen Calexico a couple of times this year and though they were good gigs they didn’t reach the heights of their pre-Garden ruin era shows mainly because of the band’s decision on Garden Ruin to move away from their Tex-Mex influences and invest in a more mainstream rock sound. Garden Ruin is an excellent album but I do miss the Mariachi element. They kicked off with “El Morro”, an instrumental from a film soundtrack I’d never heard before. It was a beautiful, understated opening with some delicious slide guitar playing from Joey Burns and it immediately suggested that the band were not going to give us a re-run of those previous gigs. Though much of the material played was from their last two albums they played with a verve and enthuisiasm that was a hallmark of those earlier gigs but that had been diminished somewhat in recent times. Feast Of Wire favourites “Sunken Waltz” and “Across The Wire” sparkled like diamonds in the desert while the Garden Ruin material, especially “Deep Down” and “Cruel”, was played with much more gusto than we’d previously experienced.

Best of all though were the instrumentals. “Minas De Cobre” was breathtaking with Paul Niehaus’s pedal steel taking the lead backed up by the vibrant trumpets of Calexico stalwarts Martin Wenk and Jacob Valenzuela while “El Picador” was equally thrilling and had much of the crowd dancing. The touring band that Calexico now have is just six strong, including the main duo of Burns and Convertino, but this now seems to be their definitive line-up and I can’t imagine the band without the likes of Niehaus, Valenzuela or Wenk. Along with bass player Volker Zander they are integral to the band’s sound and live show, especially Jacob Valenzuela whose trumpet playing was a delight throughout and who provided vocals on a wonderful version of “Roka” and generally spent the whole gig looking like he was having the time of his life. His enthusiasm was infectious and for most of the gig the audience were whooping, clapping and singing along, encouraged more often than not by an equally animated Joey Burns.

With live staples “Alone Again Or” and “The Crystal Frontier” sounding better than ever the gig came to an end with both audience and band on a collective high and the smiles, temporarily at least, back on our faces.


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