Calexico Saturday June 24, 2006 Rex Theater Pittsburgh, PA
w/ Jason Collett
Frontera>Trigger/Across The Wire/Deep Down/Cruel/Smash/El Picador/Roka/Not Even Stevie Nicks>Stray/Sunken Waltz/Yours And Mine/Letter To Bowie Knife/Crystal Frontier/All Systems Red
Encore: Guero Canelo
Walking into the Rex there is a notice on the door:
At the band's request there will be ABSOLUTELY NO SMOKING (Nice!), NO AUDIO OR VIDEO (No biggie.) and
NO PHOTOGRAPHY! (O.K., now you've gone too far.)
What is with these bands that they can't perform with pics being taken? I can understand someone doesn't want a flash in their face all night as they work, so make the sign NO FLASH PHOTOGRAPHY. Guess it's gonna' be a stealth night. Pictures ended up looking shit but that's the breaks.
First up was Jason Collett. Never, ever heard of him and surprisingly he was really good. During his set there was one person on the dance floor (Volker, Calexico's bassist) and Collett commented that the crowd was eerily well-behaved. It was a vibe that would last throughout the night.
Jason Collett hand-written setlist
There was a technical delay as the sound guys scrambled for a good half hour to fix something or other onstage. During that time I had the chance to bullshit with NPR World Cafe host David Dye who was on his annual trip to the 'burgh. Neat dude. What sucks is that I was hearing Calexico putting on two and a half hour shows on this tour and that no matter what there was a curfew for eleven tonight...on a Saturday night?...and it's now 9:45? What the piss? Fucking joke.
Whatever goofy vibe from the opener lingered into Calexico's set. They didn't seem off per se, just not that into tonight. From other reports on this tour they were supposedly blowing audiences away. Tonight they certainly didn't. Yeah, they were very good, but far from life-changing. Was it because at show time there were only a hundred or so people there? Who knows? At one point early in the set someone yelled, "C'mon, let it loose!" Joey Burns responded, "In due time." There were glimpses of brilliance throughout the performance but nothing that seemed to last past an inspired solo or two.
Later during 'Yours And Mine', a few people took the opportunity to have a nice loud conversation, prompting Joey to blast, "O.K., no more fucking slow songs." They then ripped into a stinging 'Letter To Bowie Knife' (skipping several songs on the setlist in the meantime). I kinda' like when a band gets pissed and take it out on a song.
All in all a good show. This band definitely has the chops. It was interesting to see John Convertino behind the drums. Talk about a band leader. It seemed he was controlling the whole show. And after the band couldn't have been more nice. Volker's the man!
Calexico autographed Garden Ruin CD cover
Calexico autographed print
Calexico autographed flyer
Thursday, June 22, 2006
By Ed Masley
Joey Burns of Calexico knew some longtime fans would miss the Mariachi horns on the poppier, less Southwestern-flavored "Garden Ruin." But he also didn't want to feel like he and the group's other primary songwriter, John Convertino, were spinning their wheels in the same forsaken patch of the Sonoran Desert.
While he will admit he thinks it's kind of cool that people know them for a certain sound, it's also very limiting
"We did a project with Los Super Seven," Burns, who sings and plays guitar, recalls, "where we were called in to do the kind of more Southwestern style. So we were clowning around in the studio, kind of rocking out. And they were just like, 'Wow, we didn't know you guys could do that.' We're like, 'Come on! We grew up listening to Zeppelin, Kiss, the Stones.' So it was fun to say, 'OK, we're definitely known for this one certain aspect of our sound. Now why not challenge that?'"
He credits constant touring for the new direction.
"Traveling really does have an effect," says Burns. "There's a lot more experimentation that occurs on tour than in the studio. If you think about it, say you make five records, how many hours are you playing in the studio, as opposed to live, where you're playing two hours a night?"
A week before the sessions, Burns and drummer Convertino, both of whom reside in Tucson, assembled a band whose members' hometowns range from Nashville to Berlin, in Bisbee, Ariz., with producer JD Foster, to rehearse the new material.
"We were just coming together to get into a similar head and heart space."
A sizeable chunk of his and Convertino's head and heart space this time out was concerned with the State of the Union.
On "All Systems Red," the explosive, guitar-driven epic that closes the disc, Burns sings, "Just when you think it couldn't get much worse/Watch the numbers rise on the death toll/And the chimes of freedom flash and fade."
They've always been political, to some degree, as Burns is quick to point out. "But now more than ever, this record vents frustration with the current administration. We were all together as a band, and we brought JD Foster in, so there was just a lot more hanging out, having discussions with a group of people from different backgrounds and places. And the fact is things have gotten worse and worse, with regards to diplomacy and war and people dying and media being used as a diversion. It seems like tension has been building and building."
But, Burns says, "I'm not interested in sloganeering and getting people to raise their fists. I'm much more interested in the singular person's experience, each individual and their responsibility and what goes on with them and the world around them, both local and global."
Other songs, from "Yours and Mine" to "Bisbee Blue," are more concerned with that singular person's experience outside the realm of politics.
"To me," says Burns, "the album is more personal. I think just being in my 30s, I've been thinking about where I am in relation to where I come from, family relationships, and how I relate to my town, my state, my country, my place in the world."
As for fans who feel confused -- or worse, betrayed -- by what the band has done on "Garden Ruin," Burns says, "I would think that people who listen to our music and listen to the music we play when we're backing up other musicians -- Iron and Wine, Neko Case, Richard Buckner, Nancy Sinatra -- hopefully, they see that there's a huge variety."
And if not, well, they're dusting off the horn-fueled highlights of those early records at the Rex Saturday with a huge international touring ensemble, including Tucson's Jacob Valenzuela on trumpet, Paul Niehaus of Nashville (and formerly Lampchop) on the pedal steel guitar, Volker Zander of Munich on bass, and Martin Wenk of Berlin on trumpet, vibes, accordion and some guitar.
"We'll be mixing it up," says Burns.
And he's not ruling out more Mariachi horns on future records.
"Maybe it'll rear its head again," he says. "In fact, I'm sure it will."
Calexico embraces change with musical muses
Thursday, June 22, 2006
There are musicians who pay attention to the latest trends, hire consultants and try to adjust their sound in order to reach the masses.
Then there is Calexico, a band that finds its muse wherever it roams. A road trip might put them in contact with a street musician or a regional performer. An old record found in a discount store might be the starting point for a new direction.
"There's so much great music, both recorded in the past and nonrecorded, that you just hear in passing," says frontman and multi-intrumentalist Joey Burns, who performs with the Calexico Saturday at the Rex Theatre, South Side. "You know that is a gift, and you have to make it much more special. There are so many musicians, both domestically and otherwise, who are making really interesting music and challenging the conventions and expectations of what music is and can be. That's exciting for us as a band, when you make a difference or come across something that's unique."
This penchant for indulging in divergent forms has earned the band the reputation as musicologists who embrace change. And, yet, the music is not experimentation for experimentation's sake, but borne of passion and inspiration. The latest album, "Garden Ruin," is another departure from form for the band based in Tucson, Ariz. Absent are the exotic horns charts and the soundtrack-like excursions so much a part of their recent releases.
"It's important not to continue on with a formula that has granted you any kind of success or notoriety, or makes you stand out, but to push that," Burns says. "Where are you going to take that?"
Instead, "Garden Ruin" is almost straightforward pop, albeit subversively so.
"Yours and Mine" is a quiet, meditative piece that has a rainy-day-on-the-plains feel, Burns' sedate cello underscoring the tune's yearning. "Letter to Bowie Knife" builds slowly into an ecstatic, full-bore romp, and "Deep Down" steadily percolates until it becomes a full-blown rocker with a panoramic feel.
Burns says he and his longtime collaborator, drummer John Convertino, along with guitarist Paul Niehaus, bassist Volker Zander, Martin Wenk on keyboards and guitars, and keyboardist/trumpet player Jacob Valenzeula all enjoy mixing and matching various tones and sounds, even if the combinations seem unlikely.
"I think you have to take those risks," he says. "You have to challenge yourself. If for one moment you feel like you're wasting a breath, or wasting notes, it just loses its spirit. There are so many musicians out there, so many record companies, that release albums that are formulaic, taken for granted, that are following suit."
While "Garden Ruin" -- the name implies a paradise spoiled, both domestically and globally, according to Burns -- will be seen as less adventurous musically by some die-hard fans, the lyrical content provides a sharp contrast to music. The titles alone of "All Systems Red" and "Cruel" imply a dissatisfaction with the status quo that belies the shimmering surface of the songs.
That's just what Burns intended.
"Like any filmmaker or photographer or writer, musician or artist, you need contrast; I need contrast," he says. "It gives that movement somewhere to go. It can be a very simple song, two chords, and the lyrics can be very refined and minimal. ... There are contrasts within contrasts. There's a record, and the songs are not all the same, and they're not sung all the same. There is contrast within the body of work."
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