SONIC WIND (LIVE from SCRAPING) by CALEXICO
Calexico has come a long way from those tentative but promising early duo dates that Joey Burns and John Convertino cobbled together during the Spoke years, when the Tucson-based band was still more of a quiet side project from the pair’s regular gig as Giant Sand’s rhythm section. But beginning with the full-band shows for The Black Light tours, Calexico’s eclectic mix of minor-key, mariachi-surf-spaghetti-twang-rock was custom-honed to replicate, and expand upon, the band’s one-of-a-kind studio sound. The trumpet blasts, eerie vibraphone, plains-sweeping pedal steel, reverb-happy riffs, and thunderous press-rolls offered something for a broad range of music lovers — particularly in Europe, where fans caught on earlier and in greater numbers. An Internet/tour-only CD http://www.casadecalexico.com, Scraping features the same band Calexico has fielded for several years now — Burns (guitar, vocals), Convertino (drums), Martin Wenk (vibes, trumpet), Volker Zander (bass), Jacob Valenzuela (trumpet, vibes), and Lambchop member Paul Niehaus (pedal steel, guitar) — and documents them at a time when they’ve obviously gelled. Ten of the 13 pristine-sounding cuts are from a January 2002 show at San Francisco’s Great American Music Hall. (Two other cuts, “Sanchez” and “Paper Re-Route,” were recorded in Tucson in May of 2001, while a third, “Stray,” is from the July 2000 Roskilde Festival in Denmark.) Scraping was recorded during a period when Calexico stretched out at least once or twice per show into extended, jaw-dropping jazz- or psychedelic-inflected soundscapes. Valenzuela proves inestimable, particularly on “Fade” (a 12-minute Miles Davis-meets-Morricone rave-up) and “Sonic Wind,” his muted and clarion-like horn blowing powering some memorably climatic crescendos. The infectious single “Crystal Frontier” (from the EP Even My Sure Things Fall Through) was a regular show-closer at the time, its mariachi horn blasts, flamenco-like strumming, and extended bridge revving up crowds to a fever pitch before sending them on their way. That song was eventually supplanted by the equally rambunctious “Guero Canelo” to close the Feast of Wire tours that followed — that this band has become even tighter on subsequent tours almost stretches credulity. One does wish there was at least one more cut on the 69-minute Scraping — since they were cherry-picking, a version of another popular show opener and quintessential Calexico song, “Glowing Heart of the World” (from the Road Map EP), would have been a good candidate. There may be even better versions of some of these songs on the many live bootlegs generated by Calexico, but it’s unlikely they’ll sound this crisp. Scraping offers irrefutable evidence that Calexico is one of the most entertaining live bands — and, sadly, still somewhat neglected — America has to offer.