by Steven Pisano
The Arizona-based band Calexico was in the city on Sunday and Monday nights at the Bowery Ballroom as the last stop of a US tour before jetting off to Europe for much of this summer. Many of the songs they performed were from their most recent full-length album, Edge of the Sun, but over the course of the set they delved back into their early albums as well, all of which have been received well critically.
Calexico has been around for 20 years now, and they remain true to their Southwestern sound, a mix of indie rock, mariachi, norteno, and Latin jazz, depending on the mood of any one song. Band leaders Joey Burns and John Convertino have been supported by different musicians over the years, and the current line-up is first rate, lending support on steel guitar, baritone guitar, ukulele, double bass, piano, accordion, and trumpets. Not to mention cow bells, tambourines, and assorted other percussion.
The overall effect was a long fun party somewhere along a southwestern border. Bring your own margaritas and cervezas! Songs like the explosive “Guero Canelo,” featured on the soundtrack of the 2005 movie Collateral, were clearly derived from Mexican music, with blaring horns and urban lyrics:
Gangs, guns, knives, thugs,
Chumps, chops, chill, chug,
Drink malt, smoke mota,
I like you mucho,
Dame un beso.
But not all the songs were fuel for a party. Some like the REM-sounding “Falling from the Sky,” were more pensive with the chorus:
Where do you fall when you have nowhere to go?
Where do you go where you have no one to see?
What do you see when you have nothing to feel?
What do you feel when you're all alone?
There wasn’t much room to move because it was a full house, but everyone found small ways to step, shimmy, and sway to the beats.
Gaby Moreno, a very appealing young singer from Guatemala, started the evening off with songs sung both in Spanish and English. Her songs are a mix of light and free jazz, growling blues, and foot-stomping R&B, and she effortlessly morphs one song into the other.
In 2013, Moreno won a Latin Grammy as best new artist. She plays a slightly scruffy acoustic guitar, mostly just playing rhythm chords. But at the Ballroom she was accompanied by a guy on electric guitar who was so masterful he could have held a guitar concert all by himself. (I couldn’t find out his name.)
Moreno is a very confident performer, with an alternately sweet and guttural voice, looking a little like a 1920s flapper with her short haircut. A small contingent of fans hoisting a Guatemalan flag had staked out the front of the balcony and made their presence very loudly known by shouting out their love to her, and she acknowledged them, but she also seemed to find them a distraction, so mostly ignored them until they stopped shouting. Calexico later invited her back on stage to sing with them on a number of songs.
For more photos, see here.