On a night full of dusty Americana, Getintothis’ Luke Traynor finds much to enjoy in Calexico’s borderland magic.
“There’s something electric on the streets, here in Liverpool” opines Calexico lead singer Joey Burns – one of those touring compliments that leave you undecided if a band is truly connecting with its audience or just dishing out bland commentary to win quick favour.
Tonight, it doesn’t feel out of place given the ethereal elements that imbue this Tex-Mex eight-piece’s dusty Americana sound.
Calexico smoke up tunes that are, indeed, firmly penned in the witching hour.
Named after a small Californian town on the Mexican border, it’s a music that seeps of passions satisfied and spurned in the impenetrable Southwest, celebrations of unrivaled brio and throbbing lows of unspeakable loss.
Two proud trumpets resonate proudly on the sweeping Falling From The Sky as Calexico spend our two hours together inter-weaving a unique Latin energy and cinematic grandeur, together with moments of post-rock that has few modern imitators.
The Texan border is forever in our hallucinatory gaze, swathes of traditional ‘mariachi’ (a form of Mexican folk) and ‘conjunto’, splattered straight through 22 songs that namecheck such a myriad of musical genres that the result is a breathless and heady brew.
Burns‘ vocals are immaculate, acutely mournful on Fortune Teller and full of ominous violence on Black Heart. Alongside, multi-instrumentalist Mark Wenk salutes his birthday by doffing hat, fingering trumpet with one hand and squeezing accordion with the other.
It’s moments like these, among enviable ability, that the sheer injustice of today’s commercial musical marketplace is all too plain – the One Directions, McBusteds and Saturdays of this era wallowing in scarcely deserved filthy lucre and mentally-damaging adulation, as the Calexicos of this world respectfully ply their trade, themselves labouring over LPs of meaning and quality every 24 months for the past decade.
This Arizonan ensemble have remained true to their desert noir offerings since 1996, and even can’t remember if they’ve played Liverpool before.
“This place is massive” observes Burns, surveying the newly revamped Philharmonic, “I don’t know if we’ve played this city before?” before a packed hall of devotees bark their 1996 recollection back.
It’s a night that slinkingly dissolves into the melting orange sun, the concert hall’s unflinching visual backdrop which burns a shade brighter when Calexico burst into a sexed-up version of Love‘s classic Alone Again Or.
Earlier, The Barr Brothers threaten to upstage the main course, an admirable foil of more Americana, but a frailer and more delicate kind, their hypnotic Love Ain’t Enough special not least because of harpist Sarah Page‘s throbbing falsetto backing vocals.
The tender Come In Water evokes a barer, stripped back Band of Horses.
Brothers Andrew and Brad Barr hail from Montreal, Canada, but their tunes are full of the lilts of Nebraska, and How The Heroine Dies is undeniably last Friday’s biggest triumph, from either band.
As percussionist Andrew feathers barely-there tom-tom beats, underpinning gorgeous sibbling harmonies to elegiacally reflect: “When that last ray decays, From the boardwalk parades, Yours is the longest shadow to fade…“
This, is a moment of undeniable magic.
Photos by Getintothis’ Martin Waters