Calexico made a welcome return to the UK after a couple of years’ absence in support of their brilliant new album – Edge of The Sun – and we were there to see them at Manchester’s Albert Hall. This was only one of three British gigs for Calexico so the venue was packed to the gills with people of all ages, all with a shared intent on having a great time with some great music….and they weren’t disappointed.
The Albert Hall was built as the Methodist Central Hall in 1910 and is full of eclectic Baroque and Gothic elements with lovely stained glass. This eclecticism is very appropriate for a band like Calexico whose musical style can probably be best described as Americana but in truth covers ground as diverse as, Indie rock, Tex-Mex, Post-rock, Latin Rock, Jazz Fusion and straightforward country. The Albert Hall has not been used as a meeting place for Methodists since 1969 and was renovated by Trof and re-opened in 2013 as a music venue and we’re certainly glad it was.
I’ll try and avoid the ‘church-like’ cliches but it does have a real sense of a happening when you are there at a gig and because of the layout (including a raised stage that was as high as the tallest audience member), the view and sound from anywhere in the venue is simply amazing. At the same time, it felt incredibly intimate, particularly on the upper tiered seating where strangers sat side by side on the old wooden structure in the darkness.
When Calexico took to the stage, they kicked off with ‘Falling From The Sky’ from the new album, a real rouser, instantly getting the crowd going. You could tell that the band were genuinely happy to be there and the reception they received was incredibly warm and welcoming and the crown were instantly on side.
Joey Burns is incredibly personable and interacted often and more times than not with a great sense of humour: “Thanks for coming” he said. “You could be on your patio drinking a martini instead. The drinks are too expensive in venues anyway. I don’t know about you I always bring my own”. This received some supportive cheers although I’m not sure what the venue management would have made of that. The various bars in the venue didn’t seem to suffer much though. “I’m happy to be back in Manchester on a sunny day” finished Burns and you could tell he meant it and the crowd were happy too. There was none of this – ‘let’s wait a few songs before we start dancing malarkey’ – this audience were grooving to the Tex-Mex rhythms from the off and the band were both feeding off and creating the energy. This was very much aided by the venue’s layout and informal seating/standing. It was like the biggest Mariachi party you’d ever see, but bathed in cool Mancunian sun.
Although singer Burns and co-conspirator and sensational percussionist John Convertino are the driving force and only constant in the band, Calexico is really an ever changing collective of top notch musicians and artists with a unified focus around Burns and Convertino’s creative vision. The band on stage tonight ranged from 7 to 11 members, if you include the times that support act The Barr Brothers joined them on stage. The core of the band are stupendous musicians and Calexico are a band right at the top of their game.
The set was a great mix of old favourites like ‘Across the Wire’ from game changing album ‘Feast of Wire’, new album songs ‘Cumbia de Donde’, ‘Miles from the Sea’ and ‘Coyoacán’, ‘Splitter’ and ‘Maybe on Monday’ from previous album ‘Algiers’ and the lovely ‘Two Silver Trees’ from ‘Carried to Dust’. This first batch of songs demonstrated perfectly the eclectic tastes of the band (and their audience) as well as their sheer musicianship, with all band members sharing and changing instruments. This is a very talented bunch of artists on stage for us tonight.
‘Moon Never Rises’ – with the band joined by The Barr Brothers – another one off the new album, is the perfect segway from the first half of the set to the second. The huge album cover backdrop showing the moon or sun, changing with some very clever lighting. Birthday wishes and a full audience singalong of happy birthday followed for one of the band members.
‘Sunken Waltz’, a real Calexico favourite was up next. Burns says that wherever he goes, this is always a favourite and reminds him of friends and family when he plays it. It is one of many Calexico tunes that could be deemed ‘classics’. What was so impressive about Calexico’s performance tonight was their energy which never faltered over the 24 song set.
We are treated to more numbers off the new album – ‘World Undone’, ‘Esperanza’, ‘Bullets & Rocks’ and ‘Beneath the City of Dreams’, an interesting mix of styles. ‘Esperanza’ sounds like something that you would hear on a Quentin Tarantino soundtrack; I’m imagining it playing over the closing credits of Kill Bill 3.
‘Fortune Teller’ from ‘Algiers’ leads us into what has become a Calexico standard/classic, the Love cover ‘Alone Again Or’ which upped the energy by another few notches, which I didn’t think was possible, the brass accompaniment giving the song a real punch. By this stage, the crowd were going wild and the last remaining members of the audience who weren’t dancing had finally succumbed and you could literally feel both tiers of the Albert Hall jumping along to the music. The set finishes with Puerto and the audience have reached an absolute frenzy of Tex-Mex enjoyment by this stage. The band leaves for the obligatory encore and are treated to some tremendous applause when they return to the stage for the first of two encores.
Encore one includes early classic and moody number ‘The Black Light’ off the album of the same name and ‘Roll Tango’ a bonus track from the new album and a surprising but brilliant cover of the The Smiths’ ‘Bigmouth Strikes Again’; very appropriate for the Manchester venue. Encore one ends with ‘Güero canelo’ another brilliant number from ‘Feast of Wire’ and another one that gets the audience right off their feet and dancing and shrieking as if this was the best Mexican street party ever…and actually it might just have been.
The evening concludes with another new one ‘Follow the River’ and a beautiful cover of the Bill Fay number ‘War Machine’, supported on stage again by The Barr Brothers’. This final song of the evening has a gospel, hymnal quality to it which couldn’t be more appropriate to the surroundings and The Barr Brothers join Calexico on stage and take a curtain call. The band look like they think they’ve delivered something special tonight and the audience look like they think they’ve heard something special tonight and I’m not going to disagree with either.
- Falling From the Sky
- Across the Wire
- Cumbia de Donde
- Two Silver Trees
- Miles from the Sea
- Maybe on Monday
- Moon Never Rises
- (with The Barr Brothers)
- Sunken Waltz
- World Undone
- Fortune Teller
- Bullets & Rocks
- Beneath the City of Dreams
- Alone Again Or (Love cover)
- The Black Light
- Roll Tango
- Bigmouth Strikes Again (The Smiths cover)
- Güero canelo
- Follow the River
- War Machine (Bill Fay cover) (with The Barr Brothers)