Brighton’s ever-reliable army of plaid shirts is out in force tonight, and on a bitingly cold and dark Tuesday in February, they’re here to see a band who should, by rights, warm them up. But as the seven-piece stride onstage, the overriding feeling kicks in that Calexico are now a band who are too practiced, too professionally honed, to bring a spontaneity or spark to the Corn Exchange’s mirrored hall.
The main problem stems from their continual shifting from faster, mariachi-infused smokers to subdued, more traditional rock ballads and builders, and back again. Opener ‘Epic’ is a smoulderer certainly, and admittedly perfectly placed here in the set (it’s the first track on most recent album ‘Algiers’). But it’s followed with a hearty ‘Across The Wire’, which finds singer Joey Burns pumping the air, striking Christ poses and generally acting like a Tex-Mex Jon Bon Jovi.
He tries hard, often in vain, to coax the crowd tonight. When what sounds like an actual Mexican heckles him from the front to “play the hits”, he announces the band are going to “keep playing”, as if to spite her. A good thing, certainly, but the band have only been playing for five minutes, and such banter feels forced. Burns complements the city and its beaches, but generally gives the impression he’s spoken these lines countless times before, and in countless cities to boot.
However there are glorious sonic highlights throughout that resonate off up the ceiling and walls long after they’ve ceased onstage. Organist Sergio Mendoza’s joyous Hammond and xylophone add a sumptuous bed to many tracks. ‘Minas De Cobre’ sets the Sussex couples at the very back of the venue swaying, its sampled freight train sounds shuddering surprised looks out from inside their chubby embraces. And the now expected cover of Love’s ‘Alone Again Or’ is the perfect choice for this band, still a perfect match for their hybrid sound.
But while no one doubts their authenticity (these guys played Airline guitars years before Jack White ever did) or influences, great gigs should take the audience somewhere else. At points tonight, the Calexico live experience felt like merely being shown laminated postcards of places we might like to visit, rather than ever actually feeling a warm desert breeze tickling our faces.
Corn Exchange, Tuesday 19th February 2013
Words by Jake Kennedy