As their combined name suggests, Calexico and Iron & Wine are the coming together of two unlikely projects; sometimes a beautiful blend, other times an eclectic jumble (the fact that they retain their own names is telling). Nevertheless, they are a wonderfully talented group of musicians and they entertained a full Usher Hall on a chilly Monday night.
Opening with ‘Follow the River’, the six-man band starts with restraint and composure, with Sam Beam’s voice (Iron & Wine) warming the room.
Immediately following is the excellent ‘He Lays In The Reins’, the title track and namesake of Calexico and Iron & Wine’s first collaborative EP of 2005. Textured and melodic, drawing from Calexico’s indie-mariachi influences, the diversity of the collaboration’s sound begins to show, and continues to do so throughout the gig.
The setlist wanders between the group’s EP and their first full-length album of this year, Years to Burn, and the brilliant back catalogue of both Calexico and Iron & Wine.
Songs like Calexico’s ‘Glimpse’ make one wish the gig wasn’t seated. Indeed, the audience – although polite throughout – never matches the energy on stage. A lengthy double bass solo breaks the jamming ‘Red Dust’ down, which soon becomes almost awkwardly long and disjointed. Other than that, the band’s instrumentation is elegantly slick; the highlights being the trumpet throughout, an accordian solo and impeccable drumming.
The beautiful and poignant ‘16, Maybe Less’ is an undoubtable stand out, with Sam Beam breaking out of song to dead-pan “My son is married and tells me we don’t talk enough”.
The band exits the stage to leave Sam Beam and Joey Burns to perform a gorgeous rendition of Iron & Wine’s ‘Naked as We Came’ with a slightly more bluesy twinge. Burns then takes the lead with Calexico’s ‘Fortune Teller’, their voices and playing intertwining wonderfully.
With the band rejoining, the pace is quickened once more and they effortlessly move from song to song. The recent ‘In Your Own Time’ ambles charmingly with a country air to it.
‘The Bitter Suite’ opens with the serene voice of Jacob Valenzuela before shifting into a darker, rockier groove which grows into an engulfing wall of noise. It’s a track which captures all the best bits of Calexico’s diversity and Iron & Wine’s voice and acoustic guitar playing.
Returning for an encore, the band finishes with the sedate ‘Years to Burn’ and the uplifting ‘Father Mountain’.
It provides a fitting end to a good – but not great – gig. Whilst they are an incredibly talented collaboration with some truly brilliant songs, I can’t help but prefer both artists on their own.
Image: Ellen Qbertplaya