Three years after bringing down the house, Calexico returned to the Barby once again on Feb. 28. This time, however, Joey Burns' voice was lost between the drums, guitars and trumpets, and the combination of the folk-rock dough and the Mexican spices failed to impress.
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Near the middle of the show, during one of the Latin-influenced tunes that Calexico so enjoys, the guitar strums reminded me of David Broza's "Violets." Immediately, I remembered the last time they had played this hall, when Ehud Banai jumped on stage for a few songs. I wondered what would happen if Broza were to show up and do the same. And then I thought: I hope this happens. This show could do with a song like "Violets."
With all due respect to David Broza, Calexico doesn't need anyone's help. So what was I doing at one of their shows, thinking that another artist's song could improve the performance? Well, the trademarks of that song – stable, beautiful instrumentation, coupled with a singer with a great voice – were practically nonexistent in this show. Joey Burns' weak crooning got lost behind all the instruments, thus rendering the songs somewhat spineless – at least for those in the audience who weren't avid fans of the band.
Calexico is known for mixing folk rock with Mexican spice. But even here, on the element of sound itself, they failed to impress. Sure, there were some beautiful moments, but the feeling was that the Latin-folk-rock cocktail wasn't quite stirred right. It wasn't organic or natural, a strange occurrence that almost never happens when Calexico gets onstage. Somewhere between Burns' erupting energy and the somewhat reserved music, a gap appeared, and it cut through the entire performance.
The last time Calexico came to the Barby, they played two shows and forged a special connection with Israeli audiences. I saw one of those shows and it was wonderful. The stories surrounding the second show tell of an unbelievable experience that lasted almost five hours.
So why, years later, was Thursday's experience rather tame? One possibility is that I was wrong the first time around, and the show, in fact, had not been so great. The second possibility is that I'm wrong now, and on Thursday they served up an excellent performance that I just failed to grasp. Or perhaps that earlier performance benefitted from the presence of Jairo Zavala of DePedro, who joined the band for that show but not this one.
Or maybe the answer is more simple. Last time around, I saw a good band give an excellent show, while this time I saw a good band give no more than a mediocre performance.
Calexico, Tel Aviv Barby, February 28.