Calexico At 930 Club, Or The Evening Redness In The West

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Calexico returned to D.C.’s 930 Club on a night when we might otherwise have been distracted.  As we walked from the parking lot to the club, we could see in the living room of the condo nearby Joe Biden grasping the jejeune Paul Ryan in a hammerlock, giving him a noogie, and our heart was still beating fast from Jayson Werth’s 13-pitch at-bat that ended in a memorable walk-off, enabling our Nats to live another day.  But by the time Joey Burns, John Convertino, and their ensemble were two songs into showcasing their glorious new album, Algiers,  the aperture of our mind focused sharply on just what an American treasure this Arizona border band truly is.

They returned to D.C. with a harder edge than when they last showed up, in 2008, promoting the magnificent Carried To Dust.  Where that album conjured Monument Valley spires, Anasazi mysteries, and a Mexican folkloric tradition, Algiers is a purer expression of pop craft, even as it’s purpose-built on top of south-of-the-border idioms.  Listen to “Sinner By The Sea,” which they returned with for the first encore, to see what we mean: it starts like something you’d hear late at night in a Vera Cruz dancehall, but keeps a slow, garage-rock beat before efflorescing into a Chris-Isaaks-meets-the-Fleshtones bit of rock’n’roll magic.  Last time ’round, Joey Burns played the lion’s share of guitar, with a pedal steel player and bassist the other stringed instrument supporters.  This time around, the core of Burns and Convertino returned with the multitalented Mexicali horns, but also a smokin’ young guitarist who seemed as adept on lap pedal as lead.  Convertino is the most confident drummer who ever led a band from so small a geographic section of his drum kit.  And the dexterity of the musicians switching between horns and accordions and keyboards was like watching an All Star team shift the infield.

So many traditions come together on stage with Calexico.  Alt-rock and folk meet Tijuana Brass, conjunto, and Colorado Delta blues.  There aren’t a lot of American bands that can convey such a sense of mystery.  Creedence Clearwater could do it by evoking Louisiana Delta mythos from the streets of Oakland.  Calexico is closer to the Blood Meridian archetypes they evoke, both physically, given their locus from Tucson, and in spirit, with a cross-border collection of ace musicians.  Last night at 930 they had our full attention, as they should.

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