Calexico’s World Drifts In: Live at the Barbican London

cover art for World Drifts InIt’s such a pleasure when a concert DVD is done right, and this one is an excellent example of the potential of this medium. Of course, it helps when it involves one of your favorite bands.

Calexico is one of the most interesting bands performing right now, both aurally and visually, and World Drifts In captures the band in all its glory during a festival at London’s Barbican hall in November 2002. The Tucson alt-rockers put on quite a show.

The main concert portion of the disc runs an hour and a half, and concentrates on songs from Feast of Wire (link), which was released earlier that year. But it covers songs from their other albums and singles as well, including The Black Light and Hot Rail. Things really kick into gear on the second number, an absolutely electrifying performance of “Sonic Wind” featuring jazzy muted trumpet from Jacob Valenzuela. Throughout, frontman Joey Burns runs the show with aplomb, taking lead vocal duties with his understated tenor; and drummer John Convertino contributes more than rhythm with his playful, colorful and always appropriate drumming. Martin Venk, like Valenzuela, plays trumpet, vibes, guitar, accordion and sings backup, Volker Zander plays contrabass and Paul Niehaus provides wonderful washes and accents with pedal steel.

The first part of the show reaches a climax with an orchestral version of “Black Heart,” with Valenzuela playing vibes and keyboards at the same time and Venk on accordion building a wall of sound that reaches a fever pitch, with Convertino banging on the skins with sticks rather than his usual brushes.

Just when you think things can’t go any higher, the Tucson band Mariachi Luz de Luna takes the stage, where they remain for the rest of the show. Other guests include French vocalist Francoiz Breut on “Si Tu Disais” and “The Ballad of Cable Hogue,” and Matt Dowse on trombone. The effect of all these musicians on stage is profound and highly entertaining. Luz de Luna is a great ensemble, and Burns wisely lets them showcase their talents. Frontman Ruben Moreno sings “Cancion del Mariachi,” written by Los Lobos’ Cesar Rosas; the diminutive Lulu Olivares steps out from behind her violin to sing “Aires Del Mayab” in her powerful alto; and John Contreras knocks ’em out singing lead and playing guitar on “El Cascabel,” which also features a stunning solo on the vihuela, a small guitar-like Mexican instrument, by Salvador Gallegos.

The concert itself is filmed pretty well. The filmmakers manage to give you plenty of views of the musicians and their instruments, without resorting to jerky jump-cuts. There are a few too many long views of the stage from up in the balcony, but otherwise, good job on the filming and editing.

As good as the concert video is, the extras are equally superb and at over an hour add real value to the package. Best is “Shot and Mounted,” an arty montage filmed during the band’s 2003 tour of Europe, set to excerpts from several of their better recent instrumentals. There’s also a good documentary on the making of Feast of Wire and backstage interviews with the musicians and crew; a documentary filmed by Burns called “The Soul of Mariachi”; and four music videos previously available only in small-screen versions on their CDs. The only one missing is the superb “Quattro” video, but there’s the cute animated short of “El Kabong Rides Again” backed by music from their instrumental tour-de-force, “Minas de Cobre.”

(Quarterstick, 2004)

Gary Whitehouse

Gary has been reviewing music, books and more at the Green Man Review since sometime in the previous Millennium. He lives in a mostly hipster-free part of Oregon, where he enjoys dogs, books, music, the outdoors, and craft beer, cider, and coffee.

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