There are support acts who give the impression of being grateful for even the smallest amount of audience attention, and there are support acts who look intent on seizing the opportunity to gain as many new fans as possible.
Montreal’s The Barr Brothers fall within the latter category. The drummer’s bobble hat and the presence of a harp on stage suggest the audience is going to be ushered quietly into the night’s entertainment, but they’re a surprisingly rocky proposition. After opening with a couple of ambling country-folk numbers, the quartet builds up a head of steam as they introduce elements of psychedelia, blues and even drone rock; the harp, unexpectedly, is used chiefly for rhythmic purposes rather than ornate flourishes.
They’re a good band but they’re no match for tonight’s main draw. Calexico’s latest album, Edge Of The Sun, is a dependably excellent blend of Americana and Tejano music that marked the band’s first appearance on the UK Album Charts Top 40: a particularly impressive feat considering it’s the band’s ninth studio album of a 19-year career. Many people among tonight’s crowd of predominately 30- and 40-somethings will have followed the band for much of that journey but, even for the completely uninitiated, Calexico’s music offers plenty of easily-accessible pleasures.
They open with Edge Of The Sun’s Falling From The Sky – one of their poppiest numbers to date – and then proceed to sashay through their rich back catalogue. The set is split more-or-less evenly between the twin sides of their musical persona: the brassy numbers from below the California-Mexico border that get the audience’s hips swinging (Cumbia De Donde, Coyoacan, Puerto) and the American-flavoured country-ish stuff that’s less danceable but no less compelling (Sunken Waltz, Miles From The Sea, Tapping On The Line).
There are curveballs, too: 2003’s doleful ballad Not Even Stevie Nicks is elongated into a rocky jam that – thrillingly and unexpectedly – segues into Joy Division’s Love Will Tear Us Apart; there are also covers of Love’s evergreen Alone Again Or and Minutemen’s Corona.
The musicianship throughout is impeccable. Lead singer and guitarist Joey Burns bears a more-than-passing resemblance to Steve Carrell and proves an unfailingly polite frontman (“Thank you for listening”). Sat behind him on the drums is the other Calexico mainstay, drummer John Convertino. Together they’re flanked by a crack team of musicians who – to a pair of untrained ears, at least – don’t drop a single note across the whole set. This was a wonderful evening’s entertainment from a peerless live act.