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From the Country Standard Time Archives

Calexico offers living encyclopedia of diverse sounds

The Knitting Factory, West Hollywood, Cal., Feb. 28, 2003

By Dan MacIntosh

WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA - Joey Burns and John Convertino (collectively known as Calexico) brought their own unique brand of border Americana music through town once again, this time in support of the group's eclectic new "Feast Of Wire" album.

This latest release further broadens the group's sound beyond its staple of the spaghetti Western-meets-mariachi creations to include everything from cop show theme-like workouts to film noir soundtrack-ready movements. It made for a show that was simply overflowing with variety, to say the least.

This primed crowd whooped and hollered every time the band's two trumpeters chimed in with Tex-Mex style horn parts, as they did on "Across The Wire."

But rather than being a partying celebration of border life, this song instead sadly tells the continuing saga of Mexicans and their struggles get across national lines into the promised land of the North. In addition to its horns, this song was also livened up with a lot of healthy pedal steel. In fact, some of the night's best moments came when the pedal steel dueled with the horn section for a little unique and inviting musical interplay.

Burns, as always, handled all the vocals, and while he's not an especially flexible singer, he nevertheless gave the group's story-songs all the necessary passion they required.

Calexico is closer to being an ensemble for Burns and Convertino's compositions, rather than any kind of a pop band. So the music stands on stage - which would have been unsightly under other circumstances - did not appear to be out of place at all this night. And even though this was a night filled complicated and varying musical arrangements, Calexico's show still felt like a relaxed evening in the cantina, rather than some sort of a stuffy music hall visit.

Swedish born Nicolai Dunger opened the show with his own personalized take on roots music. In a voice that sounded a lot like Van Morrison in places, Dunger presented a pleasing 45-minute set. Songs like "Hey Mamma" brought out a whole lot of the artist's raspy soul. Accompanied only by a guitarist on one side, and a fiddler on the other, Dunger performed a low key, yet always memorably melodic, set of country-soul-blues songs.

On almost any other bill, having this Swedish Americana performer as the opener would have made for an odd mix. But since Calexico can be likened to a living encyclopedia of diverse sounds, Dunger's presence only added to the fun.