By Chaz Kangas
By Sound of the City
By Peter Gerstenzang
By Katherine Turman
By Chris Kornelis
By Brian McManus
By Ray Cummings
By Nicholas Pell
A no-depressionist's wet dream come true, the Iron and Winemeets-Calexico pairing came through New York for an ambitious three nights, billing themselves as a modern-day "Band meets Dylan." Calexico assumed the role of Robbie Robertson and company, and Sam Beam was Bob, but let's face it: The Last Waltz and the Rolling Thunder Revue tour are crowning achievements in a longstanding collaborative folk-country tradition, and no one is gonna touch them soon.
Calexico's 45 minutes of trumpet-laced Tex-Mex indie desert-rock had leader Joey Burns trying to pump up onlookers via any method possible: band introductions, Love's "Alone Again Or," even an operatic Mexican sideman named Salvador Duran helping out with authentic maracas and Spanish interludes. The kids weren't having it, though. They wanted their bearded savior, the purveyor of all things quiet.
Beam was greeted as if he were the Second Coming. And yes, his unkempt facial hair and, I guess, his spiritualized lyrics do invoke a certain Jesus quality. What was refreshing at Webster Hall, though, wasn't his appearance, his soft-spoken whispery delivery, or the chicks yelling, "Take your scarf off!" No, those remain constant. But he'd developed new arrangements for his older songs: "Woman King" was grittier, recited in an almost angry tone; "Naked" sounded soft and sweet as ever, but Rob Burger (of the defunct Tin Hat Trio) threw in some klezmer-ready accordion.
When time came for Calexi-wine to form, Beam loosened up, forgot about the idiot hecklers, and instead fed off of Burns's endearing enthusiasm in providing rhythm guitar and backup vocals. On the EP they released this past fall, Burns's vocals tend toward the nonexistent, but tonight was different although never really a "take charge" guy, he sure took charge here, most notably for the sleepy pedal-steel ballad "Prison on Route 41." Covers lined the set, with Beam expertly taking the lead on both "All Tomorrow's Parties" and "Ain't No Sunshine." Such collabs run the risk of feeling forced (anyone remember Amsterjam?) but this pair's humility is what sells them.