If there was one band in the world that you’d want to be in, it would surely be Calexico. Aside from their jaw-droppingly good musicianship, every time they are on stage they seem to be having the time of their lives. There’s no posturing and barely any banter between songs, yet they ooze charisma and celebration. And crucially, Calexico’s celebration is one the audience can’t help but be part of.
Joey Burns – who ostensibly might be Jake Shears‘ shorter, stockier – and considerably straighter – elder brother and his band were supported tonight by two acts who seem to be junior Calexicos.
Beirut is the moniker for the one man band that is sickeningly talented 20-year-old Zach Condon. His is a remarkable story, having begun recording at 15, before dropping out of school in Santa Fe to travel to Europe. Here he was exposed to the traditional gypsy-style music of what used to be Bohemia, and was soon fusing this with the urgent southern sound that has defined Calexico for so long.
Backed up by members of A Hawk and A Hacksaw, who in their own right opened the evening, Condon slayed everyone at the Roundhouse with his effortless charm and musical ability, and a vocal style that seems to ape the unape-able Rufus Wainwright. As soon as he sings for himself, the package will be complete.
Calexico’s new material sees them treading ground already made muddy by the boots of Wilco and Grandaddy. They open with Yours And Mine from Garden Ruin, while the splendid Smash, which does as it says, proves the band are throwing themselves into their heavier, guitar-laden sound just as enthusiastically as any of their other eclectic dalliances.
But they know what they do well and what the London audience want to hear. And that is, of course, trumpets. Lots of trumpets and maracas. So we are treated to the likes of the classic El Picador, the orgasmic opener to Hot Rail (2000), the frenetic Black Heart and the guaranteed showstopper Crystal Frontier in the encore. Equally fun is their version of Love‘s Alone Again Or, released as a single in 2003, and Letter To Bowie Knife, dedicated to Gram Parsons.
Then it was their latest album, Garden Ruin, that saw them depart from the sound that has made them so unique. Their mariachi-infused, tragic spaghetti-western style has built the band a solid, loyal and fawning fanbase since their first album, Spoke, in 1996. That they seem to have, on record anyway, abandoned this Ennio Morricone-esque take on Americana has detracted nothing from the mesmerising show these fellows from the Arizona dustbowl put on, as tonight proves.