It was clear from the off that the Arizona collective Calexico were doing more than simply showcasing their new album when singer Joey Burns decided to rename the venue the Shepherd’s Empire, ignoring its politically unfortunate middle name. This might be a band who prefer subtlety to get their point across on ordinary occasions, but on the issue of whether their president was correct to start a war with Iraq they were unequivocal.
Indeed, with anti-war materials for sale in the foyer too, it was almost a surprise not to find a CND banner on the stage. But that would have detracted from the intricate music – which was, of course, the main attraction.
Unlike their last visit to London, when they teamed up with Mariachi Luz de Luna for an all-seater showcase at The Barbican, this was very much Calexico’s night. John Convertino and just one other guest star handled the important trumpet duties as the band rattled through their new album, Feast Of Wire.
In the balcony, gyrations aplenty were happening every time the trumpets joined the soundscape in songs like Guero Canelo and Dub Latina – but there was plenty of attention too for the more introspective, singer-songwriter aspect of the band’s music and for Joey Burns’ complex lyrics.
Indeed, it was a good thing that the audience were largely standing this time round, for the infectious mariachi-tinged music swiftly infiltrated the audience’s collective subconscious and forced feet to tap and arms to sway. A girl guest star appeared and disappeared, but the principal band showed that they’re not only meticulously rehearsed but passionate about their new material too.
Calexico’s music is that rare thing – it can be listened to in intimate surroundings, it can be danced to and it can be appreciated for extraordinary musicianship and songwriting. It can even be hailed as cultural. A fusion of the Arizona desert with a heap of influences brought spaghetti western soundtracks to London tonight – but that was just a part of what these guys showed themselves capable of. Just don’t call them cowboys – for Calexico are far, far more than that.