with The Handsome Family
By Michael Henningsen
Monday, March 15; Launchpad (21 and over, 9 p.m.): If there was a house band for the indie underground, it would be Joey Burns and John Convertino's Calexico. Few musicians are as well-versed and prolific as the highly indescribable duo. The pair have regularly served as rhythm section for the revolving door band Giant Sand for years (and 20-plus albums), as well as collaborating in and with Friends of Dean Martinez, Lisa Germano, Vic Chestnut, Victoria Williams and Richard Buckner. Under the name OP8, they backed Barbara Manning. They are the Booker T. and the MGs of the Western Hemisphere. As their own project, Calexico, named for a tiny border town straddling California and Mexico, they weave songs as soft as sand and as sharp as saguaro spines.
Officially no longer a side project since 2000's Hot Rail, Calexico, boasting six full-time members released the phenomenal Feast of Wire last year, toured extensively and suddenly found themselves not only at the forefront of the underground, but on the best lists of virtually every national and international music magazine worth its salt.
Convict Pool (Quarterstick), their latest recording, is a collection of six covers and originals and the cartoon short “El Kabong Rides Again” created for the Cartoon Network. It's a strange little gem, one that defines the many faces of Calexico, from stripped-down duo to full-fledged, horn-drenched alterniachi.
As cinematic, noir-ish and Gypsy Southwestern soulsters bent on capturing the essence of their beloved Tucson home, they continue to unite the essence of the place with five chords, steel guitars, a couple of trumpets and sweet memory. With a small palette, they paint the world. Part Ennio Morricone and part indie rock purists, Calexico span a breadth of musical territory most bands would be afraid to encompass. And they do so with confidence so subtle that one wonders if the resulting magic is shrewdly calculated or a wondrous fluke.
with the Decemberists
Saturday, March 13; Launchpad (21 and over, 9 p.m.): If there's one lesson I've learned after 10 years as Alibi's resident music critic, it's that I should never allow skepticism to rule my strange little world. It's more difficult than it sounds. Sifting through hundreds of new releases every week can be tedious. And the ones that come specifically designed to make you roll your eyes tend to get pushed to the end of the priority list. Such was the case with Tom Heinl's debut, With or Without Me (Leisure King). With a cover that screams “bad parody,” and a Tom T. Hall cover, it'll be a miracle if the record shows up at more than a handful of retail shops across the country.
Truth is, With or Without Me is bona fide brilliant ... in that Johnny Cash/Elvis Presley-meets-Tom Waits sort of way. Recorded in “stereoke”—that is, 10 songs with vocals and the same 10 repeated instrumentally for personal home use—Heinl's debut is an alt.country coup de grâce. Songs about trailer trash, drinking heavily, urinating in empty beer cans, treating a hangover at IHOP and other elements of true Americana never get old, and Heinl does 'em up funnier than most.
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Erika Wennerstrom • singer-