Calexico | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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John Convertino and Joey Burns have played together for so long in so many contexts--behind Victoria Williams, Richard Buckner, Barbara Manning, Lisa Germano, and Giant Sand mastermind Howe Gelb as well as in their own band, Calexico--that they can each turn on a dime while it's still in the other's pocket. Their virtuosity lets them move through styles and songs with an easy grace that's missing from much complexity rock these days. They belong to a short list of indie rockers who sound like they come from somewhere--Calexico is to Tucson as Sonic Youth is to New York--and in this chain-store world, those cultural and geographical markers get more precious every day. But there's more to it--or else the resonance would fade the farther from home base they got. Calexico's intricate canyons and arroyos are about the southwest like Jack Kerouac's writing was about road trips: the spare, smoky, elegant tunes on their third full-length, Hot Rail (Quarterstick), take Tex-Mex and mariachi, Morricone and Satie, honky-tonk and Latin jazz, Stereolab and Scott Walker and arrange them in the desert sun to melt together in intriguing new patterns. It's been said that Calexico records sound like sound tracks to films not yet made, but I think the sense of story is already implicit, and that visuals would be gratuitous. One caveat: This is the Empty Bottle's annual Customer Appreciation Night. The bar is giving away 250 free tickets, first-come, first-serve, so I'm sure the show will be packed. And I can tell you from personal experience that this band is not heard to best advantage in a sardine tin full of noisy drunks. Friday, 10 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western; 773-276-3600. MONICA KENDRICK

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Frank Swider.

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