Calexico and Iron & Wine Let Collaborative Spirit Shine at Portland’s Keller Auditorium (SHOW REVIEW)

When Calexico and Iron & Wine aka Sam Beam announced they would reignite their collaboration earlier this year, fans of both acts rejoiced. Their 2005 collaborative EP In The Reins was widely lauded as a high point for both acts. Years To Burn would not only be a rekindling of this magic, but it would be a full album’s worth. In listening to it, you don’t get the feeling that so much time has passed, and lucky for us they are touring in support. On Friday, August 23rd, Calexico and Iron and Wine made a stop in Portland, Oregon at the Keller Auditorium.

It was unfortunate that, even in an aesthetically flawless venue like the Keller, Calexico and Iron & Wine would be dogged by terrible sound all night. Instruments and vocals went up and down in the mix, which sounded tinny and made it hard to decipher lyrics. The delicate singing styles of Sam Beam and Joey Burns were often lost amid an aural mishmash. One audience member could be heard proclaiming the “soundguy should be shot” and, while extreme, did shed light on the frustration felt by many in the audience who had anticipated this tour for so long. Yet, despite all of the issues, there were high points throughout the night. “Midnight Sun” was awash in psychedelic trumpet courtesy of Calexico member Jacob Valenzuela, and “Sixteen, Maybe Less” featured a soft-spoken and charming duet with Beam and Calexico’s Joey Burns with plenty of swooning, twangy guitar to complement the whispery desert folk. “He Lays in the Reins” would also swell with lush acoustic and steel guitar. Calexico’s “No Te Vayas” off their 2012 album Algiers would also shine with its Spanish lyrics and dramatic instrumentation that sounded somewhere between Cuba and Mexico. Another Calexico song, “Bisbee Blue”, one of the band’s catchiest, most pop-forward tunes off 2006’s Garden Ruin, shined when Burns played it on acoustic and let his own calming vocals take the spotlight. The back and forth acoustic treatments of Iron & Wine songs and Calexico songs between Beam and Burns would be a highlight of the night, perhaps because there were not so many instruments to muddle the mix. On Calexico’s “Fortune Teller” Laura Gibson would join Burns for a gorgeous harmony that was accentuated with enchanting accordion.

Sprawling tune “The Bitter Suite (Pájaro / Evil Eye / Tennessee Train)” may have been the only time throughout the evening where the sound felt truly dialed in. Stretching close to ten minutes, the mostly instrumental tune incorporated elements of jazz fusion with otherworldly harmonies and a swirling desert trip of instrumentation. It was here that we were reminded of the chemistry that exists between Calexico and Iron & Wine. Though it was easy to be distracted by the lack of clear sound throughout the night, it was impossible to deny that, in the context of musical collaborations and supergroups, this one feels truly organic and not at all lacking of substance.

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