Calexico and The Cave Singers: Samurais and Poetry

Calexico and The Cave Singers

The Fillmore

San Francisco, CA

September 29, 2008

Calexico: Southwestern Samurai Songs for Tarantino

If you close your eyes at a Calexico concert, it’s hard not to feel like you’ve wandered into a dilapidated Southwestern saloon in a Quentin Tarantino film featuring Samurai warriors. I am not the first person to notice the connection between the Mariachi-flavored atmospherics of Calexico’s anthemic sound and the heavily stylized Tarantino film noir aesthetics. I think this is more a compliment to Calexico than Tarantino since Tarantino relies so heavily on music to create mood in his films, think of Reservoir Dogs. It also recognizes how visual Calexico’s music is. However, whether you agree with this, one thing is certain; Calexico is far better live than their often tepid recordings.

Calexico is a perfectly named band. Their name tells you exactly what their music sounds like. Though they have frequently been classified as an indie band, their music is a balance of Mexican norteño music and mainstream American popular music and may be closer to the alt-country sounds of Wilco with a Mexican flavor rather than Flogging Molly or Belle and Sebastian or any other band that falls into the catch-all indie category. Calexico is a bit like Chris Isaak combined with the Gypsy Kings, with Mariachi trumpets thrown in and peppered by occasional whooping en español. It is the music you would expect to hear on the US-Mexico border- although curiously without the element of chaos or edginess that you often sense or hear at most international borders and the music that often flows from border towns. Perhaps this lack of an edge is due to the sleepiness of the Mexican siesta culture and the placidity of suburban American life- as well as the hyper-militarized US-Mexico border. Though the music is not edgy, it is big- frequently building to large crescendos of trumpets, accordions, xylophones, drums and guitars. It is exciting and a little dull at the same time. It is safely exciting.

Music like this has a large cross-generational appeal and large cross-cultural appeal. The audience at the Fillmore was populated by Berkeley college students and aged Marin hippies as well as Si Se Puede immigrants in flannel shirts and high-tech Silicon Valley geeks drinking Margaritas and Dos Equis. This is a nice way to end a great California weekend, a show at the legendary Fillmore club by a band of consummate professional musicians, surrounded by a balanced cross-section of San Francisco’s diversity.

Opening for Calexico was The Cave Singers whose songs are on a whole different level.

The Cave Singers: Poetry

This was a relatively quick return to San Francisco for The Cave Singers, see my previous blog about their performance at the Independent in May. Everything I said then was reconfirmed last night. The Cave Singers are poetry.

While their sound is much quieter, with only three band members playing largely acoustic-based instruments, the songs are several steps beyond what passes for popular music.

Near the beginning of their set, singer Pete Quirk, said that they were happy to be in San Francisco, that the band was “feeling good and looking good,” then he clarified he meant “looking good inside which is the most important.” Then the band had the subtle audacity to play “New Monuments,” a song about self-acceptance and trust in difficult times, without introduction:

See the waves have been to the countryside
And to your graves your will is due
And in your mind, sip with turpentine
And in your heart, oh it's like a grave.

You always go, where the weather is
And in the slow, stretch of the sea
And in your mind, you sip with turpentine
And in your brain, I think you're fine.

The Cave Singers are all class and are quietly setting a new standard for other bands to aspire to.