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Calexico stays in tune with its art

SOhO, Santa Barbara, Cal., December 7, 2006

Reviewed by Brett Leigh Dicks

Calexico has long been a band capable of weaving its musical magic according to the moment. Whether blazing from the stage of Los Angeles’ Disney Center with Mariachi Luz De Luna or shuffling in duo mode under the southwestern stars in the car park of Tucson’s Hotel Congress, this is a band that has the remarkable capacity to seamlessly mold itself to the musical moment.

For 10 years, Calexico has been throwing forth their expansive western-flavored fusion. The dusty atmospheric soundtracks, that first appeared on “Spoke,” evolved into a fully formed southwestern sound that sprawled across both cultural and musical borders on recordings like “The Black Light, Hot Rail” and “Feast of Wire.” But, while still embracing these ethics, their most recent release, “Garden Ruin,” looks a little more inwardly.

Calexico’s musical diversity is as enthralling as it is enchanting, but perhaps its greatest virtue is a continual capacity for surprise. Even after 10 years, one can never predict what form any given recording or live performance is going to take. And so it was on this night.

With a full house greeting Calexico for its debut Santa Barbara appearance, it wasn’t long before the band hit its stride. And that’s precisely where they remained. Joey Burns’ classic guitars growled, John Convertino’s drums pounded, and the trumpets of Jacob Valenzuela and Martin Wenk blazed as the band vigorously led us through a tour of their impressive musical catalogue.

Dynamics were the order of the night. As Calexico led us through a blistering version of “Deep Down,” guitars built to a wail and Burns’ vocals graduated from a laconic serenade to an impassioned howl. They threw forth a grit-ladened version of “Not Even Stevie Nicks” while their execution of the introspective “Yours and Mine” was as airy and seductive in live realization as it is in recording.

Trumpets blared throughout both the Luis Alberto Urrea inspired “Across the Wire” and the anathematic “Crystal Frontier” – two songs that poignantly delve into the cross cultural pollination and the wall that seemingly wants to divide us from such.

This theme was fervently furthered when Valenzuela joined the vocalizing on “Roka (Danza de la merte)” before presenting a sublime rendition of “Ojitos Traidores” - one of Calexico’s contributions to the second Los Super 7 installment, “Heard It On The X.”

As Calexico charged their way towards two encores, they embraced a couple of intriguing covers. The Minutemen’s “Corona” was given the full brass treatment while Love’s “Alone Again Or” was nothing short of luminous.

The last time around, Calexico was seen in a refined sojourn in the elegant surrounds of Los Angeles’ Bosnall Gallery. Tonight we were presented with a rollicking and stomping blast from a band clearly in tune with its art.

©Country Standard Time • Jeffrey B. Remz, editor & publisher •
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