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Calexico and Ryley Walker deliver rad songs and waltzes to The Sinclair

 

With the warm weather, hopefully, comes warm weather music. And what better way to celebrate breaking 70 degrees in Massachusetts than with some music from the desert?

The shared bill of Calexico and opener Ryley Walker Tuesday night (May 1) at The Sinclair was a comfortable, but safe-yet-exceptional, pairing that played to the Cambridge crowd’s folk/indie sensibilities with some room for experimentation.

Ryley Walker’s opening set consisted of just five songs. But the Chicago songwriter’s reflective, often witty, pieces expanded and morphed into well-timed jams with the help of collaborator, guitarist Bill MacKay and Calexico’s Scott Colberg guesting on upright bass.

 

The trio knew how to time these explorations without overstaying their welcome. Cuts off of Walker’s upcoming record Deafman Glance — “Telluride Speed” and “Spoil with the Rest” — suggest that this album may be among his best yet. And the other half, two cuts off of 2016’s Golden Sings That Have Been Sung, felt fresh as ever.

Walker mentioned coming back through Boston with a full band during an autumn tour supporting the new record out later this month. “I’m definitely going to play the shit out of these songs,” Walker told Vanyaland. “We’re going to have two drummers, another guitarist and a bassist, and we’ll definitely expand upon things.” We await the return of his unique brand of free-minded folk (as well as his excellent stage banter).

Calexico has understandably been associated with the Southwest. Stylistically, it’s not hard to see why when a band is from Tuscon and has a sound drawing upon the regional folk traditions. But their lyrics have always addressed the area’s specific sociopolitical strife in a nuanced, poetic manner that speaks globally. In this particular political climate, their songs felt as relevant in a global sense as they ever have. Frontman Joey Burns made mention of how the band got into the studio right after the election. “We have work to do and that’s why we’re here,” he told the crowd. Born of that stress and anxiety is their newest record, The Thread That Keeps Us.

The set was anything but somber, as they are of a special breed of band that never loses the cohesiveness and attention to detail of their records whilst managing to elevate the songs to an entirely new emotional level. Newer songs “Under the Wheels” and “Voices in the Field” may speak of these troubling times, but they took on the urgency of a rallying song of protest, shirking the inaction brought about by fear.

Tuesday’s sold out crowd was given a healthy dose of the newest record as well as choice cuts spanning the group’s career. It was particularly great to hear “Sunken Waltz,” “Crystal Frontier,” and their excellent take on Love’s classic “Alone Again Or.”

These two sets were not just a great way to spend a warm May Day evening, but also a reminder of the fulfillment that comes with adventurousness, empathy, and a sense of community. With any luck, enough hope to get that crowd through til the next show. Or this November.

Photo by Nick Calvino.