On Friday night my wife, Sherry, and I and our friends Andrew and Jennifer went to Iowa City to see Calexico and Oakley Hall at the Englert Theatre in Iowa City. This is the second time Andrew and I have seen Calexico this year. We saw Calexico in Philadelphia at the Trocadero Theatre on June 25th with Jason Collett.
This was the first time I’d been to the Englert since the late Eighties. The last time I was there I saw Michael Moore’s cinematic debut “Roger and Me.” Back in those days, they used to do Midnight showings of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” as I recall. The Englert served as a movie theater for most of its 94 years. It closed in 1999 and was held in trust by the City of Iowa City until funds had been raised to restore the landmark. In 2004 it reopened. I don’t remember what it used to look like before the restoration, but they’ve done a good job of restoring it and making as nice a venue as we have around here. I think that we are pretty fortunate to have places like the Englert and the Paramount in Cedar Rapids. I understand that the Globe Theater in Cedar Rapids will be restored as well. These venues help draw acts that aren’t big enough to fill Carver-Hawkeye or the US Cellular Center, but are too big to play bars.
After parking at the Old Capital ramp and dinner at the Atlas World Grill, we walked over to the Englert arriving after the doors open at 7PM. I visited the table in the lobby where they were selling CDs, teeshirts and other things. I was happy to see that they had two of the tour-only CD releases I was missing. When Andrew and I saw Calexico in Philly, I picked up the tour exclusive CD The Book and the Canal that has been available since the tour they did with The Iron and Wine. This time they had that as well as Travelall, a collection of instrumental music, and 98-99 Road Map, which has some tracks used on an audio book plus a couple of extras. I got these for $15, so I saved a buck in shipping. All I need are the 2001 tour CD Aerocalexico and the 2002 tour CD Scraping. They also had the same three shirts as Philly, which are the green shirt with the red star and the bull, a tan shirt with an iguana on it, and a blue one.
After the purchases, we made our way to our excellent seats. Calexico uses Ducat King to pre-sell tickets to fans before they are generally available through the regular ticket outlets. From what I can tell, we got the first four tickets sold. So, we had the first four seats from the center aisle on the right. BTW: What a bargain these tickets were! We paid $16 apiece for them.
Oakley Hall opened very punctually at 8 PM. Interestingly, the house lights didn’t come down until the band hit the stage. I hadn’t heard of Oakley Hall until I saw that they were the opening act for Calexico. After I got the tickets, Daytrotter helpfully had a session with them, so I had a chance to hear them. They fall into the Americana genre as they pull some of their sound from country music, but they also have a distinct rock sound with influences from the Seventies. With their female singers and the electric fiddle, they remind me of early Jefferson Starship pre-Red Octopus, or any of the Bay Area related bands from that period like Hot Tuna. Rachel Cox has a very good voice, and she certainly becomes the center of attention when she sings, plays her yellow Tele, or just hippie dances. The other lead vocalist is Patrick Sullivan. When Rachel and Patrick harmonize it reminds me of the harmonies of Exene Cervenka and John Doe from the great L.A. band X.
While I think that Oakley Hall put on a good performance, I agree with my wife that they seem like a band better suited for a bar setting. I felt at times like they were a bit uncomfortable playing to a mostly seated audience. What little familiarity I had with their catalog came from the Daytrotter sessions and they played two of them that I recognized, “All the Way Down” and the very catchy “Lazy Susan.” I woke up this morning with “Lazy Susan” stuck in my head! On a couple of songs Paul Niehaus from Calexico played pedal steel, and on one song, the two trumpet players from Calexico– Martin Wenk and Jacob Valenzuela helped out.
After Oakley Hall was finished, they immediately started tearing their gear down to get ready for Calexico. The guys from Calexico helped out and they soon started setting their own equipment up. A couple of people from the audience went up to talk to Joey and Paul as they got their gear together.
The first song from Calexico was “Convict Pool” with only Joey and John. Then were joined on stage by the rest of the band for a song from Garden Ruin that I don’t recall. That was followed by “Across the Wire” and “Jesus and Tequila.”
It was pretty clear right from the start that Calexico was in good form and spirits. Joey’s between song banter was frequent and funny. The set had most of the regular songs from Garden Ruin including “Letter to Bowie Knife,” a rocking version of “Deep Down,” and an amazing “All Systems Red” which is quickly becoming one of my favorite songs to hear live. It is a soaring anthem of the doubt surrounding the loss of the presidential election that reminds me of the live passion that U2 used to have with “Bullet the Blue Sky. We also heard some of the standards from Feast of Wire, including “Not Even Stevie Nicks.”
We were treated to some different songs from a regular Calexico show. Jacob Valenzuela sang on a song that Calexico did on the Los Super Seven album Heard it on the X called “Ojitos Traidores.”
At one point Joey suggests that it’s about time for a “Seventh Inning Stretch” and told everyone to stand up. It was certainly refreshing! I think that maybe this is something that most concerts need. I didn’t realize how uncomfortable the seats were until then. It was at this time that a couple of guys ran down to the floor in front of the first row. They stood around uncomfortably until a bunch of others joined him. From that point forward people started filling the aisles and moving to the floor in front of us. Unfortunately, blocking the view for anyone who didn’t feel like standing. We also got to experience people who felt it was necessary to demonstrate their poor dancing skills when it comes to Latin rhythm. This is the problem with theater shows– it really suggests that you’d sit for most of it, and really doesn’t have a floor to accommodate people who want to get close to the stage and stand. Sherry said that she thought it would be fun to see Calexico at a venue that had more of a floor to dance on– I can think of a couple venues like that, so maybe the next time we see them it will be at one of those.
We were treated to another surprise for the encore. Calexico brought out Oakley Hall to do a couple of songs. The first song was a Doug Sahm song that I think was called “The Song of Everything.” After that song, I noticed that Joey brought out a piece of paper with what appeared to be lyrics. I think that the members of Oakley Hall were surprised. They also do a Gillian Welch cover of “Look At Miss Ohio.” Joey and Patrick Sullivan trade verses. From where I was sitting I could hear Joey calling out chord changes.
Joey asked if we wanted to hear “Corona” or “Guero Canelo.” The crowd shouted out their favorites, and it was decided that they would do both, which was a nice surprise. During these songs, some of the members of Oakley Hall were doing dance lines behind John which was fun. I’m glad to see that they are having fun on tour. Then, the show was over and Joey wished Iowa City good luck with “Football, Soccer, Hockey, or whatever.” This was the big weekend for the Iowa Hawkeyes as they were playing Ohio State (I think… I’m not a sports fan).
Here is the Calexico Setlist (courtesy the Caliposa Setlist Database)
1. Convict Pool
2. Yours and Mine
3. Gypsy’s Curse
4. Across The Wire
5. Jesus and Tequila
6. Deep Down
7. Minas de Cobre
9. Not Even Stevie Nicks
10. Sunken Waltz
11. Alone Again Or
12. Sonic Wind
15. All Systems Red
16. Ojitos Traidores
17. Letter To Bowie Knife
18. Crystal Frontier
19. Song of Everything *
20. Miss Ohio *
21. Guero Canelo
* = w/ members of Oakley Hall