If Calexico were to design a London venue to best represent their music, it would be Favela Chic, with its Manu Chao colourings, wood floors, Latin-themed food and air of the exotic.
It’s not easy to achieve a sense of the otherworldly just off Old Street, but this sister venue of its Paris namesake just about manages it.
Tonight is an invite-only showcase of new album Carried To Dust, a return to the borderlands Arizona-Mexico atmospherics the band first made their name with.
They’d deviated from matters tumbleweedy with 2006’s Garden Ruin, but promisingly the bare wooden stage is replete with xylophone and pedal steel among the guitars and drums.
Singer/guitarist Joey Burns and multi-instrumentalist Jon Convertino have two badlands compadres accompanying; one apiece on drums and pedal steel. It’s not a full band, but the stripped-back set-up promises intimacy in a setting to match.
Opening the set, Joey comments on the venue’s dead wood, manifested in the stage, the walls, the bar… and we hope not us.
Almost all of what follows consists of choice cuts of the new record, including Victor Jara’s Hands. It sounds like Calexico and Yeasayer have been to similar harmonising schools, wistfully considering open skies over somewhere dusty and remote.
Joey mentions the band’s free Paris show which, unlike this one, was open to the public, and then launches into a countrified Joey-Jon duet, underpinned by pedal steel; called Slowness, on the record it features the vocal talents of Pieta Brown, who sadly isn’t in the house this evening.
On the album House Of Valparaiso features backing vocals from Iron & Wine‘s Sam Beam; he’s not here either, but the mix of trumpet and pedal steel makes it a classic to place in Calexico’s defining canon.
Then Joey gets up to the lip of the stage and asks for the PA to be switched off. He does some rhythmic stage stomping while Jon switches between trumpet and harmonica and, as I write this, he begins to purposefully count ‘writers’ aloud. We’ve incurred his wrath and, one by one, we sheepishly hide our crackberries from his gaze and blush. Appropriately the song next up is Writers’ Minor Holiday, the last of the Carried To Dust numbers aired this evening.
Just when we think it’s all done we’re told that Lambchop‘s Kurt Wagner will be appearing after a brief interlude, for three songs. He duly does, hiding behind sunglasses and a baseball cap, explaining to us that we won’t know the songs. Aside from a Don Williams cover he’s right, but we happily kick back and enjoy Favela Chic’s Portuguese beer anyway. It’s been a decent evening in the company of a band back on form.