You gain a sense of the desert rat in the lyrics of Calexico, a Tucson-based alt-rock band: “Four in the morning the sidewalk’s asleep/ Dogs on the porch, spiders on the leaf/ Shipwrecked by night, sailing through days/ Nobody noticed the slipping away.” Allegory or nomadic desert fever? Not since the Black Crowes have I encountered this much ambiguous poetry. Living in the mysterious and fried landscape of the desert, I suspect, cranks up any aberration. “Crooked Road and the Briar” begins, “Down the crooked road a ways/ A child’s shadow hiding in the briar/ Tending to a twisted heart that’s bent and broken/ Wounded and abandoned left amongst the rotted root to rot,” and on and on until a woman ends up murdered, and an innocent man gets lynched — I think.
Calexico is essentially two musicians named Joey Burns and John Convertino. They employ a changing cast of sidemen. I think Burns and Convertino share the late Gram Parsons’s affection for the desert life. Parsons’s spot was in the high desert near Joshua Tree; Calexico is a modest desert town near the Imperial Valley that is the color of dust and links the U.S. with Mexico. I don’t know if Burns or Convertino has ever been there, but only a desert lover would name a band after a city that combined “California” and “Mexico.”
Calexico’s (the band) sound cooks with the sound of trumpets, upright bass, and accordion, the music being a mashup of country rock, ambient, and mariachi. Burns and Convertino are versed in both rock and conjunto music as separate entities. Where it gets interesting is when they drive their indie-rocker music-from-the-big-void thing with smokin’ Latin downbeats. With all that going on, I don’t really need to understand the lyrics.
Bartenders Bible also performs.
CALEXICO: Belly Up, Friday, April 17, 9 p.m. 858-481-8140. $18; $20 day of show.