Calexico at Lincoln Hall | Photos and review
The Tuscon, Arizona-based band Calexico is known for turning out scintillating, atmospheric tunes that come from a long-established romance with Southwestern culture and a carousel of jazzy, Latin and country-pop influences. The band’s ability to fall in love with and soak up cultural flavor must be a character trait: It paid homage to Chicago during its stop at Lincoln Hall on Monday evening by bringing local talent onstage and reaching musically beyond its signature Latin and Southwestern purview.
The room was immediately engulfed with layers of sound with “Splitter”, a single from its newest and seventh studio album, Algiers. Spanish guitarist Jairo Zavala raged skillfully on the electric guitar, and guitarist/vocalist Joey Burns’ voice took flight with a climax of coalescing horns. The impressive list of instruments only expanded throughout the nearly two-hour set, with trumpets, trombones, standup bass, a xylophone, accordion, piano and guitars all making appearances, and deepening the layers of mood and melody.
Algiers explores cultural narratives such as immigration, addiction and love, and these themes were performed with a touch of the dark and mystical. The tortured “Sinner in the Sea,” about someone trying to drive across the Gulf of Mexico from Havana to New Orleans, presented a woeful slide guitar set against Cuban percussion. “No Te Vayas” featured Spanish lyrics and conjured up images of dark taverns and heroic Cowboy duels with shimmering horn segments and crisp percussive rattles. No wonder Calexico’s music has easily crossed over into film soundtracks, such as the 2011 Irish film The Guard.
About a third of the way through the set, Burns brought Chicago’s Janet Beveridge Bean of Eleventh Dream Day for a nearly spontaneous duet of Leonard Cohen’s “Waiting for the Miracle.” Bean’s drawn-out vibrato inspired goose bumps as she sang: “Baby I’ve been waiting, I’ve been waiting night and day/Waiting my life away” and Burns, his voice crawling along gravely, paralleled it in deep contrast. The song was a surprising, standout moment of stark beauty in a set of lush, layered music.
Calexico alternately lulled the packed crowd into a swaying mass, only to build up to moments of electric virtuosity and plateau into dance-worthy mariachi sound. And the band knew just when to mix it up, too—the encore included a cover of the peppy, electronic “Electricity” (by Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark) with openers The Dodos. It was an uncharacteristic choice, but proof that Calexico, style-centered as the band may be, still has the perceptiveness and versatility to execute just the right touch.