Calexico – The Albert Hall, Manchester, 30th April 2015
As Calexico take to the Albert Hall stage tonight a little after 9 o’clock, and with the sun having just set on a glorious spring day in Manchester, light can still be seen peering through the magnificent stained glass windows of this former Wesleyan chapel. Over the next two hours the band from Tucson, Arizona – a seven-piece outfit built around the rock solid foundation of frontman Joey Burns and drummer John Convertino – put in a warm, vibrant and ultimately thrilling performance which gives lie to the myth of the rainy city.
They open with ‘Falling from the Sky’ – those trademark Mariachi-flavoured horns punctuating the song’s delicious pop-infused melodies. Taken from Calexico’s ninth studio album Edge of the Sun, it is one of nine songs to feature from that record this evening; a record that reaffirms Calexico’s place on the borderline between the more traditional elements of Tejano music and modern Americana.
With its plaintive Tijuana horn ‘Miles from the Sea’ captures perfectly the romance and desolation of America’s most southern states. For a heart-warming ‘Moon Never Rises’, Calexico are joined by The Barr Brothers, Andrew and Brad, who earlier had filled the support slot with the greatest of distinction. And both ‘World Undone’ and ‘Beneath The City of Dreams’ evoke warm memories of Ry Cooder’s superb late 70’s Chicken Skin Band in the unique way that only Calexico can effortlessly fuse the disparate elements of gospel, blues, bolero and norteño.
Yet it is to the past and ‘Sunken Waltz’ that Joey Burns returns mid-way through the set. He describes it as the song to which he always defaults, and here you can understand exactly why he does. Taken from Calexico’s 2003 album Feast of Wire, it harnesses all of his and the band’s many strengths: an unmistakeable ability to blend a wide range of musical styles, their remarkable ear for a beautiful melody and their keenest of eyes for an often beleaguered romantic view of the world.
But tonight Calexico keep their very best until last. Using the springboard of ‘Alone Again Or’ – Bryan MacLean must have been looking down from above with such immense pride at this quite majestic reading of his song – Calexico move up into another gear that accelerates them forward into a six song finale that must go down as one of the greatest encores I have had the pleasure to experience.
Starting with a sepulchral, stripped down reading of the title track from The Black Light – where Burns is just accompanied by upright bass and drums – the full band then return for ‘Roll Tango’ (one of the bonus tracks from Edge of the Sun) before launching into a homage to Manchester and Morrissey. ‘Big Mouth Strikes Again’ is as thrilling as it is unexpected. To hear The Smiths’ classic given the full Tupelo treatment is one of those moments that defines the sheer uninhibited elation that live music can bring.
And still Calexico are not finished. Feast of Wire is again revisited, this time for an extended ride through ‘Güero Canelo’, before the band come back onto the Albert Hall stage for one last time. Edge of The Sun’s final track ‘Follow The River’ is reproduced here in all of its tender melancholic glory before Calexico and the entire Barr Brothers ensemble come together for an incredibly emotional cover of Bill Fey’s ‘The War Machine’. Music can rarely be more moving.
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