Calexico and Ryley Walker, The Sinclair, Cambridge MA, May 1 2018 | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
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Calexico, Ryley Walker

Calexico and Ryley Walker, The Sinclair, Cambridge MA, May 1 2018,

May 22, 2018 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

As far as planning an evening of contrasts goes, you couldn't do much better than putting Calexico and Ryley Walker on the bill together. The former comes with nine albums and more than 20 years of raucous, high-tempo history, the latter is a man and his guitar.

That's no insult to Walker, touring in advance of his new record, Deafman Glance. He did an effective job warming up the crowd with his brand of drawling, dreamy indie folk. Looking like he's just stepped out of a truck cab, dressed in green t-shirt, olive pants, and a red baseball cap, he's not quite one man and a guitar. Two others joined him on the stage, one with a double bass. It's not extravagant music though and there's no percussion in sight.

He makes stripped down work, rolling through a mix of older songs and new arrivals. "Telluride Speed" draws particular notice, coming with an ambling intro about hunting for John Denver's ghost.

An engaging presence, he's far chattier and at ease than his fragile, often haunting music suggests. Complaints about the hilly nature of Boston compared to his Midwest upbringing, and his mother's dislike of swearing fill the gaps between songs.

By the time he's played himself off with "The Roundabout," he's won over the mostly older crowd of dedicated Calexico fans.

It certainly felt like a room full of fans who've been there since the beginning. Thirty was at the young end of the scale, the few exceptions to that rule invariably standing next to a parent.

Nor does it take long to see why they remain popular. The band is as tight and energetic as ever, refusing to rest on past glory. Joey Burns and John Convertino have managed to keep a loyal audience over the past two decades without throwing in the towel and falling back on the hits. Barring the ubiquitous individual found at any live show complaining about the number of new songs, the rest seemed happy to let Calexico rock out tracks off The Thread That Keeps Us, released this year.

It's a record not without political significance either, something Burns acknowledges when he comments on the state of America in between songs before pledging the band to the fight back.

As for the music, they start with "The Town & Miss Lorraine" off the new record, and keep returning to that well, most successfully with the Trump digs on "End of the World with You" and the finger clicking, trumpet blaring coolness of "Under the Wheels."

Seven of them are up on stage. Two trumpets duel each other, vocals switch seamlessly between English and Spanish, and despite the pointed political comments, a party atmosphere runs from start to finish.

As you'd expect, a couple of classics draw the biggest cheers. "Sunken Waltz" and "Across the Wire" from 2003's Feast of Wire remain as sturdy as they ever were, and their cover of "Alone Again Or" has lost no shine.

All the way through Burns keeps prompting handclaps with stoic determination, not that it takes much to get everyone going. He has the most success with "Crystal Frontier," which rings out loudest and longest, combining their Mexican leanings with good old-fashioned Americana.

There's a feeling they could play all night, but all good things must end. Come back in another 20 years and the audience will have grown older still, but you wouldn't want to bet against Calexico continuing to forgo the past in favor of the present.

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