In November of 2002 just months before the release of Feast of Wire, their exquisite 2003 album, Calexico performed in London as part of the Further Beyond Nashville festival. That performance, which is now available as the concert DVD World Drifts In — Live at the Barbican London, not only demonstrates the strength of their soon to be released material, but also pays a loving tribute to the music that inspired their career. The 6-piece concert band which includes founding members Joey Burns (guitar/vocals) and the incomparable John Convertino (percussion), as well as multi-instrumentalist Martin Wenk, upright bassist Volker Zander, pedal steel player Paul Niehaus, and Jacob Valenzuela on trumpet, vibes and keyboards, stretches its legs on material culled largely from the band’s first three albums before hitting its stride with a trio of songs from Feast of Wire. Beginning with the spooky vibes of “Woven Birds”, proceeding to the charming “Not Even Stevie Nicks”, and climaxing with the emotional zenith of “Black Heart”, the band unite under the aura of the new material, painting a picture that goes beyond their usual dark, desert theatricality and instead taps straight into a core of mythic greatness.
But the celebration truly begins when the band introduce eight of their fellow Tusconians, Mariachi Luz de Luna. Although mariachi is much maligned, and at times almost despised by mainstream American culture (reference a new Burger King television commercial), in the hands of Luz de Luna mariachi proves itself a joyous and, at times, regal music. On the collective strength of proud violins, horns, and guitars the two groups pull off a rousing rendition of Burns’ border crossing fable “Across the Wire”, as well as several traditional mariachi numbers featuring various members of Mariachi Luz de Luna on vocals. In addition, the pre-encore set closes with a euphoric cover of the Minutemen classic “Corona”, a version of which was featured on the band’s most recent EP, Convict Pool. While Mariachi Luz de Luna are obviously the night’s most special guest, they’re not the evening’s only caller. French chanteuse Francoiz Breut makes a mid-set appearance, continuing the relationship which began with Burns’ appearance on her 2001 album Vingt a Trente Mille Jours. I can’t be sure what exactly makes one a chanteuse, but Breut’s winged haircut and arms-outstretched sway are no doubt key ingredients. While her presence add a sultry wisp of smoky air to the proceedings, her contributions seem to have a bit of difficulty competing with the joyous fervor of the evening, which climaxes with a raucously extended turn by everyone on stage during the closer, “Crystal Frontier.”
But what good is a concert video without an endless stream of bonus material? In addition to the almost 90-minute performance, there are various homemade extras including “Border Horse”, a behind the scenes look at the recording of Feast of Wire; “The Soul of Mariachi” 10-minute documentary directed by Joey Burns; “Shot and Mounted”, a European Tour video from 2003; various interviews with the band; a cartoon short; and a entire career’s worth of music videos. These extras will no doubt be treasured by Calexico enthusiasts throughout the world’s deserts, but the concert itself is the star here. Both enamored and reverent of the musical traditions of the Americas, Calexico is a band finding its own greatness. This performance, recommended for fans and novices alike, is all the evidence anyone should need.