Concert Review + Photos: Calexico and The Barr Brothers @ Albert Hall – Manchester

I have yet to have a disappointing experience at Albert Hall in Manchester and Calexico’s visit to the former Wesleyan chapel, situated in the centre of Manchester continued the venue’s rich vein of form in attracting interesting and dynamic acts and producing an environment for them to shine. From a photographer’s perspective it can be a bit of a nightmare due to the incredibly high stage, but we’re here for the music right!

The night started in enthralling fashion with a short set by Canadian outfit The Barr Brothers. On record, lead singer Brad Barr and co. produce a relaxed, quite soulful variant of Americana, quite reminiscent of AA Bondy and I was thoroughly unprepared for the way this would be rendered on stage as the spring sunshine finally begins to dip from the stainglass windows on either side of the venue. What transpires is a more bluesy, at times severe performance, driven by raw guitars, offset by incredibly rich musical textures provided in particular by Sarah Page on harp and vocals and tempered throughout by Brad Barr, who sings with real pathos. The band prove to be an incredibly satisfying opening act and receive deserved recognition from the partisan audience as they leave the stage.

Calexico seem to have been on the scene for years. Nineteen to be precise! Despite their longevity, tonight’s performance demonstrates that they are still able to thrill and surprise an audience and the mature crowd at Albert Hall tonight are treated to a virtuoso performance full of savvy songwriting, thrilling musicianship and exciting stagecraft that provides substantial evidence of their durability. The band open with Falling from the Sky off latest long-player Edge of the Sun and this presents the band’s commonly perceived dynamic to great effect. Upbeat rhythms are complimented by an energetic horn section, but this by no means tells the whole story of the night. The band are adept at leaning on a range of influences meaning that no song sounds the same, and tonight we are taken on a musical journey as broad and vast as the landscapes the band call home, back in Tucson, Arizona. Next track is a case in point. Across the Wire makes the most of the mariachi styled horn section and this is enhanced by more traditional country elements to really add texture to Joey Burns’ vocals that become Dylanesque one moment and then perhaps, not so inexplicably inspired by Marty Robbins the next.

Cumbia de Donde is reminiscent of the band’s contribution to Breaking Bad’s success, which came in the form of Banderilla. The song is full of passion and emotion and demonstrates the enjoyment the band experience performing together and this spirited dynamic becomes infectious as the crowd start dancing, contributing to a really positive vibe within the spacious confines of this wonderful venue. Miles from the Sea leads to comparisons with The Decemberists. There is certainly a similarity in terms of the playfulness of the band at times and vocally, Joey Burns is able to convey the passion and authenticity that Conor Molloy is also blessed with. Calexico’s particular strength on show tonight though is their ability to weave songs from a vast tapestry of influences and one is left admiring the dextrous guitar work of Jairo Zavala, which is reminiscent of Link Wray at times, one minute and Jacob Valenzuela’s Latin contribution both vocally and on trumpet the next. It makes for an incredibly stimulating evening full of musical nods and whistles and the band are more than happy to oblige a gracious audience, performing for two hours by the time the final strains of the exquisite War Machine play out at the end of their second encore. Prior to this, it is worth pointing out that the band are more than happy to acknowledge the musical heritage of the city they are playing in with a most unexpected cover of Bigmouth Strikes Again. In the hands of Joey Burns and friends, the song includes all of the subtle influences mentioned above, producing one of the most convincing cover songs I’ve heard for a long time. Thank you Calexico and thank you Albert Hall.

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Review and Photos by Iain Fox | @IainFoxPhoto

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