Calexico | Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Most of the time drummer John Convertino and bassist Joey Burns work as a self-effacing and flexible rhythm section for hire, equally at home playing spare indie pop with Barbara Manning, loose boogie rock with Giant Sand, eccentric old-timey music with Michael Hurley, or off-kilter country with Victoria Williams, with whom they're currently touring. But as Calexico, they step into the spotlight. On their forthcoming second album, The Black Light (due in May on Quarterstick), they use vivid instrumental passages and occasional vocal turns to tell the story of a drifter who flirts with crime and considers joining the circus. Through accordion dirges, exotic lounge interludes, big-top processionals, mariachi excursions, and twanging Duane Eddy rockers, Burns and Convertino can't quite shake the habit of being unobtrusive: Burns's soft-spoken vocals are buried in the mix, and guest contributions like Neil Harry's voluptuous pedal-steel melodies and Rigo Pedroza's brash trumpeting dominate several key tracks. But in concert, where their arsenal is generally stripped to bare essentials, they rise to the occasion, bantering with the audience and taking requests. (If you don't know any of their tunes by name yet, ask for their version of the Minutemen's "Jesus and Tequila.") At this show, bolstered by other members of Williams's band, Burns and Convertino will actually have the resources to realize some of The Black Light's arrangements. Headliners USA will celebrate the release of their latest album, Little Birds. Friday, 10 PM, Lounge Ax, 2438 N. Lincoln; 773-525-6620. Bill Meyer

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Bill Carter.

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