Monday, August 02, 2010

Calexico, Elliott Brood @ Phoenix Concert Theatre, Toronto (July 22, 2010)

Joey Burns of Calexico: photo by Michael Ligon
  Joey Burns of Calexico: photo by Michael Ligon

More often than not bands tour to promote a new release but sometimes they tour for touring's sake such as the case with Tucson's Calexico who stopped in Toronto for a show at the Phoenix Concert Theatre on July 22. Similarly, openers Toronto trio Elliott Brood aren't promoting a new release either but came out to open the show before working out their performance legs on their own tour jaunt.

It's surprising it took me so long to catch Toronto's Elliott Brood live, a career two albums in already, a band who's kicked around since releasing their first release, an EP, in 2004. The band consists of Casey Laforet on guitar / vocals, Stephen Pitkin on drums, and Mark Sasso on guitar / banjo / ukelele / vocals. For a Thursday night at the Phoenix there was a decent crowd yet still plenty of elbow space for both Elliott Brood's and Calexico's sets, providing some foot-stomping room for a few extroverted souls to cut loose, the rest of the crowd seemingly content to stand back and watch. It was a fairly satisfying set of roots-tinged songs, songs rooted in steady percussion and embellished with guitar, banjo and ukele and enthusiastic vocals. It's perhaps a formula destined for mundaneness but the Brood do experiment a bit with sonics in their guitar sound at times, but above all have a great catalogue of melodic tunes they're working with. It's these songs in a live setting which call for handclapping, foot stomping and singalongs such as their fantastic set closer "Miss You" which had the band repeating "I Miss You Now" accompanied along by a jaunty rhythm.

Tucson's Calexico have been one of those acts I've been meaning to catch live for some time now. I'd barely scratched the surface in even listening to them on record but they were always one of those bands that in theory I thought I might like a lot, having coloured their indie rock with a variety of influences including jazz, Americana, and mariachi. With horns, pedal steel guitar, vibraphone, and hand percussion making their way amidst the more conventional rock instrumentation, the band performed a varied sounding set from mariachi-influenced songs, to rootsy numbers and a few straight-ahead, guitar-driven indie rock blasts. It was the latter that I most identified with although it was the former[the mariachi/rootsy numbers] where the band really distinguishes themselves. With the press having described them as "desert noir" in the past, I always imagined a mystique surrounding the band but on the contrary they were quite ordinary guys and lead singer Joey Burns was open and friendly with crowd.

They thanked the crowd, who in my opinion seemed enthusiastic on the contrary to what chartattack said, with a couple of encores, the first with the band which included a Zorba-The-Greek-esque instrumental interlude joined onstage with Elliott Brood which segued into a poignant, twang-inflected cover of Neil Young's "Cortez The Killer". The 2nd encore seemed unplanned but given the sustained efforts from the crowd who remained, Joey and pedal steel guitarist Paul Niehaus came back onstage to perform the quieter, folky Bisbee Blue".

Here's the setlist.

Photos: Calexico, Elliott Brood @ Phoenix Concert Theatre, Toronto (July 22, 2010)
MySpace: Elliott Brood
MySpace: Calexico
Video: Calexico - "Sunken Waltz" (live @ Phoenix Concert Theatre, Toronto (July 22, 2010)

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