Calexico and Friends KXCI Benefit

Temple of Music and Art, Friday, Dec. 28, 2007

In my book, the best part of this time of year isn't getting gifts, indulging in food and spirit, or posting multiple pro-Huckabee videos on YouTube--it's the time spent with family and friends you haven't seen in ages.

For this year's KXCI FM 91.3 benefit show, Calexico chose to highlight projects they've worked on in 2007 with friends near and far while honoring the nonprofit community radio station.

Tucson's folk-flamenco hero Salvador Duran kicked off the evening with Calexico's Joey Burns and John Convertino on upright bass and drums, where they'd remain for most of the openers. Next up, half of New Mexico's A Hawk and a Hacksaw, featuring former Neutral Milk Hotel drummer Jeremy Barnes on accordion, wowed the sold-out crowd with a sound I'll call "nano-DeVotchKa"--pocket-sized indie klezmer.

French avant-pop local fixture Naïm Amor next sampled his new release, Sanguine, which was produced by Burns. Tucsonans Vicki Brown and Sergio Mendoza (The Jons, Seven to Blue) joined the celebration on viola and piano, respectively, conjuring up the spirit of Nick Drake. Later, a full string section aided chanteuse Marianne Dissard, who that day had just finished overdubbing tracks with many present for a forthcoming release she co-wrote with Burns. On hearing the addition of Tom Walbank's lonesome harmonica, I almost expected to see a young Jon Voight hopping off a bus, à la Midnight Cowboy.

Speaking of movie soundtracks, Calexico opened with "Goin' to Acapulco," one of the Bob Dylan tunes they remade for the Dylan biopic I'm Not There. Next, a horn section brightened a mariachi-tinged version of Lee Hazlewood's "We All Make the Little Flowers Grow," and the group kept the theme of "positive mortality" going with the debut of "Absent Afternoon," a new song inspired by the funeral processions that pass by Burns' home.

After the very rare "Man-Made Lake," another downbeat number indicating Calexico's drift toward the early-'70s, Bakersfield country rock sound, Calexico and co. spread some sunshine with Johnny Cash's "Orange Blossom Special," Love's "Alone Again Or" and their own bacon-wrapped Sonoran dog tribute, "Guero Canelo."

Calexico saved the gift too big to wrap for last--a duet with Victoria Williams on Dylan's "One More Cup of Coffee," also featured in I'm Not There, giving the community yet another reason to support the music scene and KXCI, the gift that keeps giving year 'round.

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