Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Calexico at the Fonda, September 29, 2008

Monday (September 29) was Calexico and The Cave Singers at the Fonda and they sent a near capacity crowd home satisfied and happy.

I didn't know anything about The Cave Singers who were already into their set when I walked in, but their music drew me right down front. Pete Quirk's voice is somewhere between gravel and sandpaper, which is perfect for the blues influenced, southwestern indie-folk-rock his three-piece band plays. He can also sing quite sweetly if called on. The more I listened, the more I liked. From their focused concentration I could tell these are dedicated musicians who take their music seriously. The Seattle band is on the Matador label and I think they're worth checking out.

Taking the stage at 10, Calexico wowed the audience with their perfectly played renditions of songs, both old and new. They are one of those bands I consider to be more of a music cooperative than just a band. Like Arcade Fire, Beirut or Broken Social Scene, they seem like a small orchestra. All members seem so accomplished, most of them can step forward and play a leading role on certain songs. They all seem to be multi-instrumentalists as well. With seven band member, two trumpets, a violin, bass, keyboards with piano and organ, drums (which have that wonderful kind of hollow sound like on the recordings), slide guitar, etc. etc. it was hard to keep up with it all.

Joey Burns has such a fine, strong voice, he sounds to me quite like one of the best singers I've yet heard. I thought the same thing last time I saw them. And the mix was so superb, his voice rang out, supple and commanding, and yet every whisper could be heard as well. He even commented on the great sound and I wondered if it spurred them on to play longer.

I began the concert right down front and even close the Fonda doesn't let the lead singers vocals get lost being projected out over your head, like so many venues. But why do the perfect asses somehow manage to find me and stand right next to me? At Okkervil River I was next to someone who felt the need to howl like a dog during and after each song. At Calexico I'm by someone who thought this was Riverdance and stomped to the music. Stomped loud and hard! Fortunately the Fonda is big and there's room to move away. I lost my up-front position but still enjoyed viewing the show from a few different vantage points.

I saw them for the first time two years ago on June 13, 2006 at a landmark concert at this same spot when they were out in support of the Garden Ruin CD. Monday they sang songs from earlier recordings, but I was most anxious to hear selections from Carried To Dust, their new CD. I think it's their best work yet and they performed "Bend In the Road", "Two Silver Trees", "The News About William" (such a haunting lyric), "Writer's Minor Holiday" and "Man Made Lake" all sounding beautiful. "Inspiracion" by Jacob Valenzuela, featuring his terrific trumpet work, was a highlight. And "El Gatillo", with Martin Wenk's trumpet and Morricone inspired whistling made me expect to see 'the man with no name' riding up on horseback.

The new material perfectly encapsulates the Calexico sound. The swirling dense sound evokes the American southwest with its dry deserts, rolling tumbleweed, hot sun, orange skys and red rocks. The lyrics are rich and deep, filled with melancholy, hope and longing, reflection and aspiration.

John Convertino and Joey Burns acknowledge and appreciate being surrounded by first class musicians and what a display of talent. It must be a great band to be a part of. Each one is given an opportunity to shine and they really appear to enjoy playing and singing. I mean, this was the last night of the tour and there wasn't a hint of fatigue anywhere.

Coming out for a couple of encore numbers, including the new CD's first track, "Victor Java's Hands", the audience roared it's approval. Joey told us how much he loves L.A. and it's great people. One could see he was both moved and thrilled at our reaction. Another great concert, another great audience, another great night.


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