Tucson's finest bring their unique compression of American musical styles to DVD with a London concert recording
DVD always runs the risk of turning into a dustbin for live shows and dodgy outtakes which seem to qualify for release solely on the grounds that they exist and they’re available. Get it right, though, and the format can help to give a 360-degree view of an act that you can’t always get through audio alone.
Calexico’s first foray into the medium is something of an object lesson. The band’s nucleus, Joey Burns and John Convertino, both tend towards fastidiousness and perfectionism. Burns claims that they didn’t burden themselves with vast amounts of pre-planning before they shot this performance, but maybe he’s being too modest. In any event, it looks great. It was filmed at London’s Barbican Centre in November 2002, but the way it’s lit with subtle blues, browns and golds, the cameras homing in deftly on the instrumental or vocal action as though they’d been routining the shoot for weeks, takes you way beyond the mundane confines of the hall. The Barbican is widely regarded as an excellent venue for classical music and a little uncomfortable for rock’n’roll shows?but this footage gets you so involved in the performance that it simply isn’t an issue.
The concert followed closely on the completion of Calexico’s fourth album, Feast Of Wire, so quite naturally this shapes the bulk of the set. The acoustic guitar, accordion and pedal-steel of “Sunken Waltz” lilt along over high-stepping string bass, while “Black Heart” is all simmering blues, oozing menace. Over the brisk strum of “Not Even Stevie Nicks”, Burns daringly tries out his falsetto vocal register and pulls it off without a hitch. On the drums, Convertino deploys an armoury of nifty techniques without ever lapsing into pointless flashiness. His trick of using a drumstick with one hand while rattling a pair of shakers with the other must be the percussive equivalent of rubbing your stomach while patting your head.
The duo have rounded up an expert bunch of additional Calexicans for stage work, including the multi-instrumentalist Martin Wenk, Lambchop steel player Paul Niehaus, bassist Volker Zander and trumpeter Jacob Valenzuela. Here they’re joined by some extra guests. French singer Fran