Calexico / Jan. 24, 2006 / New York (Joe's Pub)
The packed house at Joe's Pub, mostly poor-looking rich hipsters guzzling down $12 boutique drinks, looked like the farthest cry from the border town banditos who come to mind when you listen to a CalThe packed house at Joe's Pub, mostly poor-looking rich hipsters guzzling down $12 boutique drinks, looked like the farthest cry from the border town banditos who come to mind when you listen to a Calexico record. Yet that didn't stop this celebrated spin-off of Arizona desert rock legends Giant Sand from bringing the dustbowl to the heart of Cooper Square.
Those in attendance looking for a gig loaded with material from "Hot Rail" and "Feast of Wire" might've been a little disappointed, as Calexico staged this mini-tour to showcase songs from its upcoming album, "Garden Ruin," due April 11 via Quarterstick.
An early listen to the set finds the group embracing a cornucopia of sounds beyond it classic brand of Mariachi rock, touching on elements of Jon Brion-esque pop sensibility and an electric dirge akin to the Crazy Horse/Sonic Youth/Wilco trinity of ragged expressionism. Some tracks even have the hushed folky twang of the Scud Mountain Boys and Iron & Wine, with whom Calexico collaborated last year for an EP and tour.
On this night, the new songs (all 11 of which were played) sounded even better than they do on record. And though the regional Mexican vibe that made its previous works so enjoyable has been pushed to the backburner, hearing Calexico whisper out such beautiful numbers as "Yours and Mine" and "Smash" with the same proficiency is just as invigorating.
Elsewhere, the tight jingle-jangle arrangements of new songs like "Bisbee Blue," "Panic Open String" and the phenomenal "Lucky Dime" sound as though they could fit right into the background of a PT Anderson film set against the backdrop of the Grand Canyon. The band even tried its hand at breathy pop concrete on "Nom De Plume," which found frontman Joey Burns signing in French.
Longtime Calexicans were treated at the end of the set to the group's popular, spot-on version of Love's "Alone Again Or," not to mention, to the joy of a guy in the audience who had a bet riding on it, a harrowing version of "Not Even Stevie Nicks."
There aren't many groups out there who will road test an entire new record three months before its scheduled to be released. But then again, that is exactly what makes Calexico one of the best American bands since the days when that was a regular practice in rock'n'roll.