Calexico, Julia Jacklin dazzle El Rey crowd

Calexico El Rey 2018 mainbar

Saturday night brought brought the blended-genre powerhouse Calexico back to LA, along with Australian solo artist Julia Jacklin for a killer show at the El Rey.

I’ve seen Jacklin a few times now, most recently at The Echo, and each time it’s lovely. Jacklin, who originally hails from Sydney, Australia, puts on no airs — she’s raw, vulnerable and inarguably female in a way that appeals to me. In between cracking self-deprecating jokes about bad breakups, Jacklin croons intense, brokenhearted ballads with matter-of-fact lyrics. She stands stock-still beneath the house lights, sometimes gently closing her eyes. I imagine that she’s lost in her own memory in those moments but let’s be honest, I could be projecting here.

Soon it was time for the night’s headliner. Calexico is what you’d get if cumbia, mariachi, and experimental rock had a love child. LA Weekly once called them “desert noir,” and as soon as you experience their live show, that moniker makes perfect sense. Their sound is somehow dark, emotional, and jubilant simultaneously. It’s adventurous in a way that’s completely unique and utterly captivating. So when the ensemble took the stage on Saturday night at the El Rey, I was blown away.

What first must be said about this band is that both separately and as a group, these are incredibly talented musicians. These guys know their shit. You can see it in frontman Joey Burns’ swift fingerpicking, in trumpet player Jacob Valenzuela’s breath control, and in multi-instrumentalist Martin Wenk’s theremin skills (yes, theremin skills). Individually, they’re talented, combined… well, they’re transcendent. And it’s no surprise. Burns and drummer John Convertino have been making music together since 1990, adding members to the group like vagabond travelers as they move across the western United States.

The band is on tour now with their newest release, The Thread That Keeps Us, and the hit off that album, “Under the Wheels,” feels like a desperado desert fever dream, punctuated by an ebullient horns section led by Valenzuela and Wenk.

Later, in a seriously impressive turn of events, Burns brought out the band’s so-dubbed “merch girl,” Lauren Jacobsen, to play violin on their track, “Fortune Teller.” And man, did she fiddle.

The crowd, which was comprised of an interesting mix of middle-aged white guys outfitted in what appeared to be head-to-toe Tommy Bahama, younger women, and hipster couples, warmed up throughout the set, eventually weaving and stomping to the group’s raucous bi-lingual hit “Cumbia de Donde.” At one point, of the Tommy Bahama guys in the front row had both arms up and was waving them with abandon, eyes-closed, a huge smile spread across his face. And who could blame him? It’s how we all felt.

Words and photos by Stephanie Varela Rheingold