By Chris Varias
The Cincinnati Enquirer
On some songs they came off like Los Lobos' experimental-rock spin-off Latin Playboys. Other times they turned back multitudes of by-the-numbers Americana bands with a little Minutemen here and some mariachi there.
Over the course of its recording career, Calexico has proven to be, at the very least, a unique band. At the Southgate House Monday night, the Arizona crew put on a show that was not only unique but trumped anything it has put to record.
Calexico is a vaguely Tex-Mex-styled side-project for Giant Sand's Joey Burns and John Convertino, but if they keep playing shows like this, Giant Sand shouldn't still be the main gig.
Calexico's albums are typically a bit too much on the ethereal side, filled with experimentation, wispy melodies and faceless vocals that add up to background music.
The live show was the opposite. The songs were honest-to-goodness songs, not the would-be score for some movie of the mind. And although Burns might not be the greatest singer in the Southwest, he wasn't afraid to project his voice. Burns was definitely the star of a seven-man band filled with stars, including Convertino on drums, Paul Niehaus on pedal steel and Martin Wenk on trumpet, vibes and accordion.
The set was as varied style-wise as any an indie-rock band is likely to perform. It ranged from spaghetti-Western instrumentals ("Glowing Heart of the World") to waltzes ("Sunken Waltz") to traditional mariachi ("Tema de Mariachi") to a guitar-drum duet ("Convict Pool") to a set-ending Minutemen cover ("Corona").
Local bands Ruby Vileos and the Haywards opened, but the spiritual opening act of the show was George W. Bush, who gave his speech earlier that night. Saddam had about 45 hours to go when Calexico took the stage. The band started with "Glowing Heart of the World."
"This is our anti-war song," said Burns.
A couple of hours earlier, David Enright of the Haywards glibly captured the mood.
"It's St. Patrick's Day," he said. "We're gonna die."
The Haywards is Enright on guitar, backed by pre-recorded drums plus assorted guitar and vocal parts. On this night singer Lisa Kagen, his band mate in the now-defunct Deltoro, also accompanied him.
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