Calexico are unique in today’s indie music scene. The Tucson, Arizona-based band blends rock and roll and Americana with influences of the American Southwest and the Mexican border, in particular from the Tejano and Mariachi traditions, to create a sound that is all their own and instantly recognizable. Core members Joey Burns and John Convertino have been at it for quite some time now, with over two decades in the project under their belts. They released The Thread That Keeps Us, their ninth regular album (not counting their many EPs, self-released side projects, soundtracks, and live albums over the years), earlier this year to universal critical acclaim. Their tour brought them to Washington, DC on Friday, where they played at the Lincoln Theatre to a dedicated crowd of fans.
Starting off all the way back at their second album The Black Light from 1998, the band opened the set with an amalgamation of parts of two tracks, the instrumental “Frontera” with the lyrics of “Trigger.” The band has been performing these songs this way for years, and at this point it seems almost hard to believe they were two separate tracks. The music, like many of Calexico’s songs, invokes imagery of the desert Southwest, the lyrics a tale of murder to rival the darkest Western. From there it was on to the much more uplifting (even if the title may hint otherwise) “End of the World with You,” the opening track of the new album. The band’s 21-song setlist drew heavily from the album, including nine of its fifteen tracks including many that are bound to become staples of the live show for years to come like “Voices in the Field,” “Under the Wheels,” and “Flores y Tamales.”
In fact, if the band had only stuck to these new tracks, it would have been a good show. But Calexico is a band that likes to please their audience, and several days prior to the start of the tour they had put out a call for requests. These filled the setlist in abundance, ranging from “Stray” from The Black Light, to “Two Silver Trees” and “Inspiración” from 2006’s Garden Ruin, to the band’s cover of Love’s “Alone Again Or” from 2004’s Convict Pool EP. For the encore, Burns played a stripped-down version of “Fortune Teller” (from 2012’s Algiers) accompanied only by violin and upright bass, and then took a turn on the keyboards for one more new song, “Another Space.” Closing out the nearly two-hour set with “Güero Canelo” (from 2003’s Feast of Wire), it was certain that no one left unsatisfied.
Chicago-based experimental singer-songwriter Ryley Walker opened the show, joined by guitarist Bill MacKay. Walker’s latest album Deafman Glance comes out on Dead Oceans on May 18th.