Forum, London, 11/10/2008
published: 28 /
At a superb show at the Forum in London, Chris O' Toole discovers eclectic and erratic form of charming south-western Americana to be impossible to classify on record or stage
Following their apprenticeship in Giant Sand, the quixotic duo of Joey Burns and John Convertino have built an eclectic and erratic reputation as the focus of multi-instrumental group Calexico. Along with a revolving cast of supporting players, the pair has at various times supplemented their south-western Americana core with flourishes of 50's and 60's jazz, country, surf and a host of indigenous South American music. The result has been a series of encompassing albums, each time presenting a complete perspective, diverse from predecessors.
Surprising, then, when Calexico present their latest album 'Carried to Dust' to London's Forum on an early autumn evening. Featuring guest contributions Sam Beam (of Iron & Wine), Douglas McCombs (of Tortoise) among its contributors, the album allows the group a loose, free flowing performance. On record Calexico have a complex emotional power and beauty, with their LPs having a subtle depth and range. In the live arena, particularly in recent years, the group have, however, alloyed this with a willingness to adapt their sound to larger crowds. Tonight the group joke with the assembled faithful, pretending to make up new tracks for example, in a jovial environment – at odds with the considered, even austere, reputation garnered by their recorded work.
'Two Silver Trees', from the group's latest album, is a case in point; allowing the group to rock-out more than might be expected. The jazzy drumming is matched to some spiralling guitar work and falsetto singing, as to thoroughly engage the crowd. A cover of 60's psych rockers Love's 'Alone Again Or' also proves a highlight. With two drummers, horns and organ as well as acoustic and electric guitars, it would be possible for the group to transfer their myriad of influences onto the live stage, diluting their impact. But Calexico seem willing to sacrifice their musical impact for a purely emotional one on evenings such as these. A charming, enigmatic band – impossible to classify on record or stage.