Calexico with The Dodosat Royale in Boston, on Wednesday, October 10, 2012.
Calexico kicked off their US tour in Boston, in support of their brand-spankin’ new Algiers record, a place that finds them with a new label (Anti-, after Quarterstick was collateral damage in the Touch and Go implosion) and with some new faces in the lineup. Stalwarts Joey Burns and John Convertino of course form the nucleus of the band and have been there from the get go once they jettisoned as the rhythm section of Giant Sand, and Jacob Valenzuela and Martin Wenk (trumpet, guitar) were familiar faces from years spent on the road. Newcomers include Sergio Mendoza on keyboards and accordion, Ryan Alfredo and the most notable inclusion of Jairo Zavala on guitar, replacing Paul Niehaus.
Zavala’s biting tone and energy was a bracing change from Niehaus’ mannered approach, bringing fresh blood to songs like “Guero Canelo,” firing off a torrid one note guitar solo filled with acid that would make Neil Young’s head snap to attention. He also played the lap steel just as proficently, bringing a lush texture to the uplifting dirge that is “Black Heart” or the languid waltz of “Across The Wire.”
But back to the nucleus….Burns and Convertino steer this tumblin’ tumbleweed through the dry arroyos and canyons like a bat with supersonic radar, dodging and weaving around Americana melody lines and brash splashes of Mariachi in perfect control and balance. Burns’ guitar playing never forces its way to the front, but you always know it’s there providing key ballast in acoustic or electric form, and Convertino is the balls-out coolest drummer there is, at least until Tom Waits decides to beat the skins.
The Dodos brought their own sound to the mix, and apparently their own crowd. The age difference between the two band was easily a generation, and it was odd to the see the audience tide roll in and out during set changes, as both bands should have something to bring to either camp. Regardless, the minimalist duo of Meric Long and Logan Kroeber hung enough melody lines over their ragged guitar and drums to keep it interesting, and ended the show with a dust-up that sounded vaguely Verlaines-esque. That’s a pretty high bar in this household to clear.