With the serene sounds of City and Colour in the background, the crowd meandered through the Athenaeum Theatre to their seats and Tiny Ruins walked on stage to set up for their set with minimal fuss and sound. The earthy drums and gentle guitar strums that emerged from the stage were a simple accompaniment to the velvety vocal and gentle harmonies kicking off proceedings, moving into an almost dreamlike state with ‘Me at the Museum, You at the Wintergarden’.
The band’s style could be summated by the opening lyrics of Old as the Hills, “Lean in friend, Lean in Friend and I’ll tell you a tale”, with smooth, sombre and captivating narratives albeit somewhat subdued and melancholy. The musical tales were met with the simple and polite exchange of artist performance and amicable applause. It was difficult to read anyone’s response in this situation, but with the inclusion of new material from Tiny Ruin’s upcoming second album, the mood immediately changed with a far more enthusiastic response to a more up-tempo song, still encompassing beautifully layered melody and vocal harmonies.
Knowing the wide ranging fusion of genres that span the works of Calexico across their extensive back catalogue (I could spend an entire paragraph collating the different descriptions I’ve come across), there was no way of anticipating exactly what would be happening on stage that evening. We may have eased into the main event of the evening, opening with the desert-like soundscapes of Trigger, with only the virtuoso trumpeting ending the song providing the slightest clue to what was to come with Across the Wire, officially starting the party proceedings for the evening and kicking off audience clapping contributions into Splitter.
There’s a certain impression that you get when listening to a Calexico album, particularly around the synergy and joy shared in creating music. The live experience does not disappoint in comparison, with the proficiency of multi instrumental performances, ease of transitioning between various genre influences, impeccable vocals and the exuberance that showed dedication to a great night’s performance. Watching John Convertino on drums was most impressive; precision with the calmest facial expression but with limbs moving in all directions. It could only be likened to a duck swimming in water, calm about the surface but paddling like mad under water.
Following Joey Burns’ commitment to Latin Dub Indie Rock (in it for the long haul, apparently!) for No Te Vayas, the band slipped into Maybe on Monday, before featuring older material from ‘Feast of Wire’ and a gorgeous duet with Hollie Fullbrock (from Tiny Ruins) on Slowness from ‘Carried to Dust’.
If Calexico weren’t doing enough to keep things interesting on the night, the inclusion of a cover of Joy Division’s ‘Love will Tear Us Apart’ was a welcomed extra before easing into the Latin fused rock sounds of Sinner in the Sea building into the enraptured ending of the set with Alone Again Or and Puerto. And as though things couldn’t get any better, a stripped back performance of Fortune Teller for the encore was sublime before ensuring that everyone left the venue happy with Crystal Frontier.
Hearing Epic would have been….well, epic given that it was the first Calexico song that I knowingly listened to. Having said that, the inclusion of so many older tracks amongst the more recent release of Algiers was an achievement in itself with such an extensive back catalogue. More impressive was the evolution and translation of the material in a live setting, that added a completely different dimension. No guesses as to what will be moved up the list of listening priorities now!