Twenty years (give or take a few months) after their first Aotearoa gig at the legendary Tamaki Makaurau venue The Kings Arms Tavern, Calexico, are once again back touring on the back of their break-through meisterwerk album Feast of Wire, released twenty years ago and lovingly repackaged as a double album in 2023 .
Named after the California border town of Calexico, originally core members Joey Burns and John Convertino were the rhythm section in Howe Gelb’s Giant Sand, but in 1996 they formed Calexico and created what has been described by some as desert noir.
The Calexico lineup for this visit, is not quite the one that came in 2012, however given the fluidity of members around Joey Burns and John Convertino through the years, the array of multi-instrumentalists onstage which tonight includes Martin Wenk, Jacob Valenezuela, Sergio Mendoza Brian Lopez is quite true to its original.
Let’s be clear here, Calexico has returned numerous times since 2012, but 2024 is all about them recreating the buzz of us hearing songs from Feast of Wire for the first time..
Pōneke/Wellington-based artist Ebony Lamb, one half of alt-country band Eb & Sparrow, now defunct, sings and writes with a poet’s voice about everyday life, onto a bed of indie-folk, jazz, and ambient alt-pop. Comparisons to Beth Gibbons from Portishead or perhaps Hope Sandoval of Mazzy Star are somewhat unavoidable, given the ethereal vibe of the music and rhythms.
Late last year she released her self-titled debut album on Nadia Reid’s Slow Time Records, an album not only featuring Bic Runga (bass) and Kody Nielson (Drums/Keys), but an album also produced by the two. Tonight though, features not a band but an accompanying band member, as Ebony lamb took an appreciative audience through her debut body of mahi.
Starting promptly at 8.15pm to a filling Powerstation, I cut short a conversation with an old death metal friend I hadn’t seen for years (we are Facebook friends) and pay attention mid way through her first song.
This evening, Ebony Lamb is on electric guitar plus a box of tricks keyboard and was joined by fellow Wellingtonian Phoebe Johnson on bv’s and bass.
Salt Sea Sand is introduced as her punk song, about the current political climate, the bass lines are punk as, as are the sentiments.
Through a few more songs including: Midnight is My Name, Drive Me Around and Brother Get Me Home. Ebony Lamb sings and plays, creating a groove, a punchy 30 minute set that has a rhythm inviting audience attention and enjoyment. The audience is appreciative and I can’t wait to see her play with a full band, the difference could/should/would/will be mesmerising.
With a cheery ‘Welcome Auckland’ or suchlike Joey Burns announces Calexico onstage and they launch straight into a Mexacali tempter. The band’s frontman is chatty post song apologising for staying away so long, talking about his love for David Kilgour, horseback riding (asking for audience members for an avenue to indulge) and his family’s jealousy about him being in Aotearoa. It’s quite a rant, but it doesn’t seem strained or rehearsed as the Vibraphone and brass in Quattro (World Drifts In) sound huge and the harmonics of Black Heart fills the room, the six musicians on stage can’t help but dominate the Powerstation tonight.
As Black Heart draws to an end, three photographers scuttle through the crowd past me, their time up in the sanctuary between band and crowd abandoned. I am already in awe of the musician in front of me, I think it is Sergio Mendoza, who already has rotated through accordion, slide-guitar and trumpet, behind him though other members are displaying their multiple talents swapping between guitars keys, vibraphone and another trumpet.
Pepito’s intro fills the gap between songs eerily, as the three guitar (acoustic, slide and electric) instrumental, create a mexacali soundscape enveloping the audience creating a moment of emotion that dovetails into the highly antici[pated Not Even Stevie Nicks (which is introduced with an espoused love for the venue) which then, in an agitpop way, metamorphosis into a version of Joy Division Love Will Tear Us Apart.
There is more aroha for crew and promoters as Instrumental Close Behind see the super-talented one juggle accordion and trumpet in unison, I get lost in the moment hypnotised by the Tex-Mex, Latin rhythms (John Convertino drumming is sublime) and jazz-tinged Americana being created on stage, and it is during Attack! El Robot Attack! I finally notice the unmissable bright sparkling red shirt of guitarist (and sometime bassist) Brian Lopez, who is slickly reproducing the licks from Feast of Wire.
And then the tequila shots kick in and all I can remember is the spectacular twin trumpet spectacle on Across the Wire (an album stand out) with Calexico version of Love’s Alone or Again following quickly (their version is far superior to most attempts I’ve heard live or recorded) And then Joey invites an old friend, Fen Ikner from the local band Lips, who used to play with the band way back when in Tucson!
There is more, but it blurs a little until the finale with Crystal Frontier starts with just Joey on acoustic guitar that expands into the widescreen band version and features Brian Lopez creatively adding a flanged guitar sound. The night ends with thanks and cheers, aroha is in the air, on both sides of the stage and once again, Calexico have sated Tamaki Makauarau appetite with a Feast of Wire.
Click on any image to view a photo gallery by Aaron Christiansen:
Quattro (World Drifts In)
Not Even Stevie Nicks… / Love Will Tear Us Apart
Attack el Robot! Attack!
Across the Wire
Alone Again Or
Whipping the Horse’s eye
Minas de cobre (For Better Metal)
Ballad of Cable Hogue
Flores y tamales
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