May Bank Holiday Monday night and Calexico are in town stopping off for the last night of their tour in support of their latest album Edge of the Sun. They’re also fresh in the door from both a Belfast show on the Saturday night and a Sunday headline slot at Kilkenny’s Rhythm and Roots festival. Whilst not quite a sell-out, Calexcio are still enough of a draw to coax out a decent sized crowd to the Olympia despite it being the last drag of a soggy fag-end bank holiday weekend night.
Local quintet I Draw Slow get the rootsy vibe kicked off early with their support slot. They’re also straight in from a stint at the Marble City’s weekender and their down-home Grand Old Opry stylie proves a palatable starter for this evening main course of Tex-Mex. Louise Holden, her skirts a-swinging and her hips a-swaying as she lays down her old-time vocals over the good old boys Appalachian styled accompaniment. The first “yee-Haws” of the evening are heard from the more excitable and doubtlessly more inebriated members of tonight’s congregation.
Hitting pretty much bang on nine bells, the seven strong headliners take to the stage and open up with ‘Falling From The Sky’, the opening track from the new record. For the next two hours or so we’re treated to what feels betimes like a Rough Guide to World Music, as guitars of the acoustic, electric and lap-steel variety conspire with accordions, percussion, xylophone vibes, atmospheric keys and their omnipresent trumpets to deliver a set consisting of a little bit of alt-rock, a dash of Americana, a touch of blues, a smidgen of jazz, a few slices of Morricone-esque spaghetti-cana and a whole lotta mariachi. There’s even an Africa-dirge inspired ‘Bullets & Rocks’ thrown into the mix for good measure.
A few songs in and we kick into full cantina mode with ‘Cumbia De Donde’ and the good folks of the Olympia begin a-moving an’ a-grooving and a-bopping in their seats. It’s around this time that I realise what’s been nagging me from the get-go. This is music for the heart and for the feet. Tonight’s show is an all seater affair and whilst it’s all well and good resting the tush for the slower numbers, this is music that demands some tequila slamming raucousness and some standing room to bust-a-groove in.
Throughout the tour the magnificent seven have been treating audiences to cover versions. Manchester got a geographically apt ‘Bigmouth Strikes Again’, while ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ also got a few run outs and tonight Love’s ‘Alone Again Or’ gets the Calexcio treatment. The horns are a natural fit and the twanging telecaster solo adds a Latino Tex-Mex twist to the ’60s psychedelic classic.
This being the last night of the tour the Arizona boys are out to party and bring some of that Tucson desert sun to these currently grey shores. Three songs into the encore and we get the quintessentially Calexico ‘Guero Canelo’. At this stage we should be in full mariachi-madness mode, ripping the roof of the cantina, arm wrestling with gansta-inked Chicano hustlers, smashing half drunken bottles of tequila off the walls and howling like lupine coyotes at the full desert moon. But instead only a few souls are brave or frenzied enough to abandon themselves to the rhythm and leap to their feet in celebration of the fiesta.
Band leader, Joey Burns salutes the crowd as he introduces tonight’s, and the tour’s, final track and suitably enough it’s the closing track off Edge Of The Sun, ‘Follow The River’, So we leave where we entered, the concert bookended by the opening and closing sounds from their latest chapter. A suitable coda for the night that’s in it.
As we disperse and head off into the sunset with those mariachi melodies and Latino beats ricocheting and reverberating around my skull like a volley of shots fired from a bandito’s six-shooter, I search for one last watering hole to quench my remaining thirst in. A quick dash up Dame Street, a swift dodge into that fine Edwardian hostelry across from Christchurch and its mission accomplished. As the Dublin light declines for one last time on this bank holiday weekend I find myself staring into the bottom of my pint-o-plain, dreaming of what could have been had this gig been in a more suitable setting. And as those trumpets blast and fire up in my head once again I begin to think that maybe I shouldn’t have ordered that last tequila.
Calexico photographed for State by Leah Carroll.