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Calexico

Tucson-based Americana indie band Calexico makes cultural appropriation sound good, with well-conceived guitar-based melodies about border crossers and journeymen, tinged with mariachi horns and a general sadness. The two main members, Joey Burns and John Convertino, have proven album after album that although there’s nothing quite new under the desert sun, the old sounds can still evoke an abstract nostalgia for the American Southwest that is as beautiful as it is mesmerizing.

Sat., June 15, 7 p.m., 2013

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Calexico+The Dodos

Guitarist-singer Joey Burns and drummer John Convertino add a mostly atmospheric New Orleans tinge to their moody and downbeat Southwestern sound on Calexico’s new Algiers. (Mas mariachi aqui, por favor.) They’re joined by another idiosyncratic and acousti-centric duo, San Francisco’s Meric Long and Logan Kroeber, who offer a credible, somewhat freaky Mumfords alternative to anyone in need of that sort of thing.

Sat., Oct. 13, 6:30 p.m., 2012

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WINE AND SPIRITS

An especially fine installment in City Winery’s new “Pairings” series—you can guess what the concept is here—this double bill brings together Joey Burns and John Convertino of Calexico, the long-running Tucson-based indie-roots outfit, with Keren Ann, the French-Israeli chanteuse who named her 2004 album Nolita after her adopted New York neighborhood. Last year’s Carried to Dust was as appealing an effort as any released under the Calexico name, but what’s often most enjoyable about these guys’ live show is hearing how Burns and Convertino (and their guests) diverge from whatever album they’re pimping at the moment; if you’re really lucky, maybe Jim James will show up for their sweet collaborative version of “Goin’ to Acapulco” from the I’m Not There soundtrack. Keren Ann’s self-titled 2007 disc wasn’t quite as bewitching as the two that preceded it—but it was still pretty darn enchanting.

Tue., March 10, 9 p.m., 2009

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Calexico’s Western Reunion

When we last heard from the Sergio Leone–worshipping Tex-Mex balladeers Calexico on 2006’s middling Garden Ruin, it seemed the Man With No Name had finally died. The heralding trumpets, wheezing accordions, and textural click-clacks that defined the Tucson, Arizona, group had moseyed off into the sunset, replaced by cookie-cutter indie-rock guitars that only occasionally hinted at their Baja fascinations. But now, on Carried to Dust, their sixth official full-length, they’ve pulled a U-turn not to save their ailing muse, but rather for it to save them. Calexico’s reliance on Southwestern musical clichés has inspired little middle ground between indifference and adulation since their core members—bassist-guitarist Joey Burns and drummer John Convertino (both ex–Giant Sand)—transitioned from lo-fi folkies into spaghetti-western cowpokes early on. But when their brassy dalliances started disappearing around the time they first hooked up with pastoral drifters Iron & Wine (whose Sam Beam shows up again here on “House of Valparaiso”), their fans and detractors took equal notice. It wasn’t the cross-cultural filigrees that were absent on Garden Ruin, though—it was the heart.

Still, the group never abandoned its orquestra live, and that may be why this return to form sounds so welcoming. From the symphonic strings on “The News About William” to the horns of “El Gatillo (Trigger Revisted),” Calexico sound comfortable with both sides of their personality again. “Writer’s Minor Holiday,” a song about a hitchhiking on-strike writer, would merely be a dated poem were it not for the myriad cymbal crashes and guitar strums holding it up; the cascading piano notes of lead single “Two Silver Trees” sound too pretty to be premeditated. Moreover, what they’ve learned from the past is how to employ these eccentricities for the good of the song. Opener “Victor Jara’s Hands,” which tells the story of the Chilean theater director, musician, and political dissenter who was executed in 1973, perfectly blends Burns’s soft-spoken imagery (“Wire fences still coiled with flowers of the night”) with vocalist Jairo Zavala’s Spanish interlude, even as the mariachi symphony plays on. Calexico’s regression may or may not be financially motivated, but it fits their songs. Now they’re equipped for the showdown.

Calexico play Webster Hall September 24

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DUST TO DUST

Tucson’s Calexico remains one of the few solid outfits to emerge from the Americana tent during the 1990s. The core duo of Joey Burns and John Convertino—alongside a revolving cast of players and drop-in friends—retains a patented “high lonesome electronica drifter” sound. And yet, they’re always fluid enough to switch up between many poles, including punkish mariachi and punkish psych courtesy of Love. Of course, it helped that my respect was stoked in the forge of Feast of Wire during a season lost in L.A.’s freeways. Mercifully, Calexico’s new Carried to Dust looks set to renovate and refine their commitment to restless experimentation.

Wed., Sept. 24, 8 p.m., 2008