Words by James Farrell
The Monday night crowd at the Bowery Ballroom had been restless all night. A few unfriendly altercations, scattered obnoxious yells, and an early feeling of general sleepiness—which would thankfully pass, with help from Calexico and supporting act Gaby Moreno—spread like a cold in an elementary school. Calexico’s Joey Burns must have picked up on the vibe; he announced that the band would do a softer number, and then he looked around, grew an empathetic grin, and remarked, “But on a Monday night, that’s kinda dangerous, huh?”
Not as dangerous as you’d think, Mr. Burns. Calexico’s southern, Spanish, indie, whatever-you-want-to-call-it hybrid collection of tunes was the only fuego keeping the workweek warriors of New York moving through the night. Calexico jumps back and forth between an Andrew Bird-like, sleepy indie-rock sound (“Falling From The Sky”) to a trumpet inflected mariachi party (“Crystal Frontier”), switching between languages just as frequently. Its dynamic range kept the audience on its feet, with each song carrying fiery potency.
Calexico is at its best when it emphasizes the “exico” part of their name, channeling their Southwestern and Mexican musical influences. The opening song, “Frontera,” began with a floaty feel, a soft, swelling build leading to a beautifully triumphant climax of long, high-pitched trumpet lines. It was like the soundtrack of a spaghetti western set in outer space, and as soon as the trumpets entered, the crowd woke up. That was a recurring theme throughout the night. The incredibly talented trumpet duo of Jacob Valenzuela and Martin Wenk had complete control over the Bowery Ballroom’s energy.
In many ways, however, it was opening act Gaby Moreno who stole the show. An immensely powerful vocalist and bilingual singer (Spanish and English), her opening set consisted of her playing solo acoustic songs; she had the coolness of a hipster coffeehouse, and the audience melted at her feet. Her songs felt like jazz and blues standards with a Bossa Nova flair, and the room was silent as she sang until she hit the higher registers, and scattered cheers and passionate yells erupted throughout the crowd. She would make appearances alongside Calexico throughout the night—including on one of the highlights of the night, Calexico’s mystical desert tune, “Moon Never Rises”—and received a loud ovation each time.
Calexico’s sleepier, rock tunes often threatened to slow down the pace of the show to the “dangerous” levels that Burns hoped to avoid, but what makes the band so successful is their ability to immediately channel different influences, and immediately rejuvenate and refresh. The furious “Crystal Frontier,” for instance featured a quick driving rhythm, reaching levels of intensity reminiscent of Santana’s psychedelic, Spanish-influenced rock and roll. It was an explosive highlight that deeply contrasted some slower-paced tunes.
But perhaps the most rewarding part of watching Calexico is their deep humility and devotion to each other and their loyal fans. From giving flowers to Moreno to commemorate her last night on the tour, to dedicating a song to a member of the audience who helped film a music video some years ago, it was clear that Calexico prides itself on its team effort and collaborative mentality. The collaborations with Moreno were clearly being worked out on the spot, highlighting both musicianship and the community emphasis that makes music such an incredible endeavor. Before leaving the stage for the final time, the members of Calexico lined up, put their arms around each other, and took a Broadway-style bow, taking in the cheers of hard-earned approval.
TheWaster.com | NYC