Not many bands are so strongly defined by their geographical origins as Calexico. While the majority of musicians could emerge from any basement or art school in the Western World without it impacting their sound one bit, almost every note of the Americana veterans’ oeuvre draws deeply from the Arizona deserts that they hail from.
Opener Laura Gibson, with her winsome alt-county balladry and general Pleasantville vibe is certainly heavily influenced by the musical traditions of her country, but compared to Calexico, she’s a bear-wrestling, free-health-care-loving Trotskyite. From their desert-dry ballads and country-tinged indie rock, to the vivid mariachi horns reflecting the Mexican-influenced culture of their border state, it’s simply hard to imagine them coming from anywhere else.
But it’s not just their distinctive sound that makes the Tucson band stand out – sixteen years together has forged them into an exceptionally tight and accomplished live outfit. Their setlist is a well balanced mix of old favourites and new tracks from ‘Algiers.’ Some might complain their sparser, more subtly atmospheric songs are slightly ill-served tonight, but any quibbles on that front are compensated by the sheer liveliness of ‘Across The Wire’ and ‘Guero Canelo’.
Their musicianship is beyond reproach throughout, with a considered and effective use of their brass section; too many artists overuse trumpets to paper over other deficiencies, but Calexico employ them only when needed, maximising their impact. Unlike Iron & Wine, who they released a memorable joint EP with in 2005, they know when to finish a song – no interminable self-indulgent jams for them – and they’re masters at working an audience without needless gimmicks.
If there’s one minor disappointment, it’s that they didn’t call upon the support act to join them for a grand old encore as in previous London shows (Beirut and A Hawk And A Hacksaw on ‘The Crystal Frontier’ in ’06 was exceptional) but given that for one night they managed to make Kentish Town seem as deliciously exotic as the setting of a Sergio Leone film, one could probably forgive them that.