A year ago I wrote a review of a Johnathan Rice gig at the 100 Club in which I quoted the singer shouting at noisy members of the audience: “Shut the fuck up!” His record company got in touch claiming he asked for quiet in more polite terms. Pity, as the request perfectly reflected my sentiments.
I thought of Rice’s justifiable hissy fit during Calexico’s tour taster at the 100 Club, especially in the TexMex-meets-rockin’-alt.country band’s quieter moments, which were drowned out on my side of the audience by the ceaseless clacking of certain members of the crowd.
Calexico’s ability to transport listeners to the vast Arizona plains was undermined in an instant by a large group of people who treated the band with the same contempt as shoppers did that guy who used to play the piano in Debenhams.
It’s a pity, because what should have been a really intimate gig, filled with brassy Mexicana and low down country dreams, was ruined, because whatever was going on on stage was drowned out by people who preferred to have a good old natter at the top of their voices.
They only managed to shut the fuck up when the band launched into rockier numbers from the new album in their set, but only then, I suspect, because the chatterers couldn’t compete with the amps.
To be fair, the band take some responsibility for this lack of engagement in the audience. The set began inauspiciously, Calexico seemed to slunk on stage before launching into Yours and Mine from latest album Garden Ruin. The opening track was almost lost in the noise of an audience given no warning that the band was about to kick off. It is a beautiful song, in which Joey Burns strong voice instantly takes you into a sadder, wilder and lonelier place than the 100 Club, but it lacked the impact.
Without doubt the band were at their best when they let rip, either with mariachi movers such as Stray, Minas El Cobre and El Picador that helped the packed audience break into a lively sweat or the rockier new numbers, such as latest single Cruel. That was when they managed to silence the chatterers, who seemed to suddenly realise that there was not just a band playing on stage, but one that was damn fine and hot.
There were self-indulgent moments that deserved to be drowned out – Burns’ long pseudo-folksy ramble about being stopped by at the border soon lost its novelty and their version of Aloneagainor was dissonant and uncoordinated.
But it was the wistfulness of Calexico’s slower, more considered numbers that stood out most, which is why the ignorant clackerers around me were so annoying. These heartrending soundscapes are capable of transporting the listener’s soul to a place beyond the noise, the crowd and irritations of a sweaty London night.