Almanac Music: Two evenings with Calexico

photo of Joey Burns of Calexico at Hamer Hall

Joey Burns at Hamer Hall Image Copyright Anna Madden BandAnna 2016

Review of Calexico at Hamer Hall 2 March 2016 and Meeniyan Town Hall 4 March 2016

Calexico are firm Melbourne favourites, having toured four times over the last twelve years. This year they brought a tight seven piece outfit from Tucson, Arizona, to promote their latest album, Edge of the Sun (Anti Records 2015).

The first gig on their agenda was at Melbourne’s illustrious Hamer Hall at the Arts Centre. The crowd was an unusual dichotomy of die-hard fans and Arts Centre members—half grunge and Miller shirts, the other suits and evening frocks.

Calexico are primarily lead vocalist and guitarist, Joey Burns, and drummer, John Convertino. Over twenty years they have collaborated with many musicians, creating different incarnations of the band. Their musical style is richly evocative, fluctuating from Americana-style ballads to rock, alt-country and latino.

On stage at Hamer Hall the band were reverent to the select auditorium, which turned out to be well-suited to their full sound. Instruments abounded, including guitars, trumpets, drums, pedal steel, double bass, piano accordion, synthesiser and vibraphone. The band-members effortlessly changed between instruments and styles.

Burns gave an impressive vocal performance despite suffering a ‘Tucson virus’. He didn’t converse with the audience as much as usual, but still managed to melt the collective heart with his songs.

Atmospheric instrumentals filled the hall with surging western-themed melodies. Many hailed from the band’s early albums, The Black Light (1998), Hot Rail (2000) and Feast of Wire (2003). If you closed your eyes, you would be in Arizona; think a desolate highway beneath the silhouette of a sculpted mesa.

Highlights were many, including new songs Falling from the Sky and Bullets and Rocks. More than a few audience members (including this one) wanted to dance in the aisles to Cumbia de Donde and Coyoacán from the new album. The contradiction was the formal concert hall housing the Mexican fiesta.

Photo of Calexico on stage at Hamer Hall

Calexico at Hamer Hall Copyright Anna Madden BandAnna 2016

Old favourites Black Heart and Crystal Frontier would never fail to please. Burns and Jacob Valenzuela (trumpet and vocals) urged the audience to participate with handclaps and ‘hey-heys’ and joy abounded. The concert finished with groovin’ Guero Canelo, solos from most of the band—including Jairo Zavala on guitar and Sergio Mendoza on synth—and more rousing audience participation. There was a lot of love in the room when the band took their collective bow.

Needless to say, I wanted more. Thankfully I had tickets to see them again in two days time in Meeniyan, a small town in South Gippsland.

photograph of Meeniyan Town Hall

Meeniyan Town Hall Copyright V Munir 2016

On an unseasonably hot March evening the weatherboard Meeniyan Town Hall shone gold in the waning sunset. It was still over 30 degrees Celsius outside by 7.30pm, moody clouds had gathered and distant thunder rolled, a perfect ambience for Calexico’s music.

The hall filled with patrons who squeezed around trestle tables topped by blue-and–white tablecloths. The side doors were wide open, people had spread out picnic dinners and eskies full of icy drinks. I’m pretty sure everybody drank double what they intended because it was so hot.

If the day itself and the town hall were not hot enough, Calexico were blazing. The band somehow seemed more at home on the smaller crimson-draped stage than Hamer Hall’s. The haunting Gypsy’s curse emerged from their soundcheck, followed by a stirring rendition of Falling from the Sky. Burns’s voice had recovered somewhat from the virus and the crowd sang along with him.

Burns was hot as a habanero in his flaming-red shirt. He lit up the stage with his heartfelt vocals and lyrical guitar-playing. Convertino kept the rhythm tight, his trademark brushes and flourishes on the drums being the spine of the music. The set differed slightly to Hamer Hall; more vocals from Valenzuela and a few more instrumentals included to ease Burns’s vocal workload.

Calexico were full of genuine enthusiasm and the crowd fed off their charms. Stamping feet and cat-calls brought Burns back for a beguiling acoustic version of Fortune Teller. The band rejoined him and after a raucous rendition of Corona and the finale, Guero Canelo, the party was all over.

This band can play, entertain, mesmerise.

It’s going to be a long three years wait for Calexico to return.

About Venita Munir

Venita is a Melbourne writer and lifelong Richmond tragic. She is currently studying Professional Writing and Editing at RMIT and writing her first novel.

Comments

  1. Keiran Croker says:

    Thanks for a lovely review Venita. I was at the Meeniyan gig. You have captured the feel of the night beautifully. I think the heat and town hall venue drew out the roots of their music and they really rocked. You could almost transpose Meeniyan to a Border Town. Just brilliant.

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