Calexico - HMV Forum, London. - Gigs - Reviews - Soundblab

Calexico - HMV Forum, London.

by Priscilla Eyles Rating: Release Date:

Supporting Calexico tonight is Orgeonian indie-folk songstress Laura Gibson, a charming singer who sings relatively simple, intimate and delicate songs, mainly off her new album Le Grande, and who reminds me slightly of fellow Oregonian Laura Viers. The songs are illuminated by her marvellously smooth and retro-sounding voice, similar to 60s cult singer Karen Dalton. She makes good use of a vintage microphone and some nice 40s-sounding a cappella harmonies on songs like 'Feather Lungs', accompanied by her bandmates. Not the first singer you would expect at a Calexico gig but one which possibly reflects the band's more indie leanings, and is a quietly engaging starter to the more exuberant main course.

When Calexico arrive they promptly launch into new album Algiers' driving opener 'Epic'. It's a good start and we know we are in safe and assured hands. The band's musicianship is on great, anchored by the excellent precision drumming of John Convertino. Charismatic and charming frontman Joey Burns is clearly enjoying himself in this song and throughout the gig, shouting 'yeahs' and 'c'mons', whooping, smiling, nodding his head, stamping his feet, exchanging exhilarated looks with his bandmates and encouraging the audience to get involved. You get the feeling that he'd be the life and soul of any party.

After such a rollicking entrance, you can't help but be immediately taken in, the joy is infectious and when Burns later says "I hope you're enjoying it as much as we're enjoying playing", the response from the delighted audience is clearly affirmative. Much of the set is made up of songs from the new album (10 songs in all) and while this made be a cause of complaint with some artists, the new songs are instant classics, as well-received and as good as much of their previous work. Although I wish for more songs from Feast of Wire, such as 'Quattro (World Drifts In)', it doesn't take much away from the overall enjoyment. Besides, they simply have too many good songs to play them all.

Highlights from the new album include the sultry, swaying, enchanting, Mexican-flavoured 'No Te Vayas', giving the stage to trumpeter Jacob Valenzuela who also wrote the song. He sings the songs with real feeling and authority and his echoing trumpet solo has real majesty, recalling the likes of Miles Davis. Quieter and slower songs such as haunting acoustic ballads 'Fortune Teller' and 'Hush', the mysterious and atmospheric 'Para, Sinner in the Sea' and encore song 'The Vanishing Mind' really give Burns a chance to show his depth as a vocalist in a way that doesn't always come across on the albums. His vocals are intense, brooding and yearning, really giving the songs resonance and power live.

When the likes of the salsa/mariachi-flavoured, tempo-shifting 'Puerto' brings on a full-on fiesta atmosphere -which I would defy anyone not to be swept away by - you can't help but dance. The last song (alongside a great rendering of Victor Jara's 'Hands') also showcases the strong vocal skills of Spanish guitarist Jairo Zavala (aka Depredo), and sits nicely among older, Latin-style songs such as the Morricone-like instrumental 'Minas de Cobra' or the lively swagger of 'Guero Canelo' which had everyone singing along and Burns initiating a call and response.

Other older songs, such as the epic 'Man Made Lake', the sexy 'Roka' (the best song on Garden Ruin), and the majestically brooding 'Two Silver Trees' are a treat to hear live. They really come alive, revealing their beautifully complex rhythms, textures and melodies and showcasing this band's ability to create a potent sense of atmosphere. And of course, no Calexico concert would be complete without a joyous and energetic cover of Love's 'Alone Again Or', paying homage to a band which has clearly influenced them so much.

This is a band which is able to bring a fiesta and Southern American border-town spirit wherever they go, even to a cold night in North West London. You know you can escape to a truly exhilarating world for one unforgettable night. And for that we can be thankful. Catch them while you can.

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