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Concert Tue Oct 16 2012

Review: Calexico @ Lincoln Hall 10/15

"It's great to be back home in Chicago," said Joey Burns, lead singer of Calexico -- a band that hails from Tuscon, AZ. This was just before Calexico walked off the stage after their last song of the set on Monday night, and the sudden declaration that this was actually homecoming show for them took me by surprise. Even other people around me in the sold-out Lincoln Hall crowd were asking themselves what the Chicago connection could be.

It turns out the Chicago connection is through the band's longtime record label Quarterstick, a sublabel of the Chicago-based Touch and Go Records. But really, all you even had to do was take a quick look at the band's Instagram posts from earlier that day to see how much fun they had roaming the city and how that might have contributed to them being so on top of their game later that night.

One thing is immediately clear when you see Calexico live: this band's love affair with Southwestern music is not a shtick. It's simply the form in which the band operates, and you can tell just by how solid they are as a band that they take it seriously.

That said, they still know how to get a crowd yelling the few Spanish vocabulary words they remember from high school. The two-person core of guitarist/vocalist Joey Burns and drummer John Convertino was fleshed out into a septet of multi-instrumentalists who alternated between trumpets, accordion, vibes, stand-up bass, keys and lap steel. At times, the stage was almost as crowded as the floor, which itself was packed all the way past the doors behind the venue's sound booth.

Burns is an interesting frontman in that he mostly lets the other guest musicians shine by letting them take solos or lead the crowd in the kinds of yelps and calls that are almost impossible to hold back during heavily flavored South-of-the-Border songs, such as "Across the Wire."

The set featured a nicely sequenced mix of songs from the band's latest album, Algiers (their first studio release not on the Quarterstick label) and the more Mariachi-leaning tracks from earlier albums and EPs, such as Feast of Wire and Convict Pool, that served as the peaks in the set's energy. Burns also introduced some special treats for the Chicago crowd, including a guest appearance from Janet Beveridge Bean, of Chicago's Eleventh Dream Day, for a duet version of Leonard Cohen's "Waiting for the Miracle."

During the four-song encore, Calexico welcomed back opening band, The Dodos, to help out with a surprising cover of Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark's "Electricity." The San Francisco duo's opening set of unpredictably shifting guitar riffs and drums beats didn't have all that much in common with Calexico's Southwestern fanfare, but who knew the two could find such common ground with a British New-Wave hit from the '80s?

There was a point during The Dodos' opening set when drummer Logan Kroeber reported that crowds in other cities often broke out into salsa dancing during Calexico's sets. Unfortunately, Lincoln Hall was so crowded that it was almost impossible to dance at all. But during Calexico's encore, after some of the room had cleared and the band was still in the middle of a stretched-out rendition of Feast of Wire's "Güero Canelo," I spotted at least one couple taking advantage of the free space to practice some basic salsa steps. And if others couldn't dance, plenty of other people found a way to show their approval by yelling that they had gatos in their pantalones.

Setlist: 10/15/12 @ Lincoln Hall
Epic
Across the Wire
Splitter
Roka
Dead Moon
Para
(instrumental)
Inspiración
Fortune Teller
Maybe on Monday
Two Silver Trees
"Waiting for the Miracle" (Leonard Cohen cover) w/ Janet Beveridge Bean (of Eleventh Dream Day)
Victor Jara's Hands
Black Heart
Corona
Alone Again Or (Love cover)
Puerto
--encore--
Electricity (Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark cover) w/ The Dodos
Sinner in the Sea
Güero Canelo
The Vanishing Mind

 
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