Playing for a room full of record store geeks sounds like a nightmare assignment for most bands — imagine Christian Bale being forced to reenact scenes from The Dark Knight in a room full of Comic Book Guys.
That's exactly what Calexico is up against at this weekend in Laveen, where they'll play before a crowd of Yo La Tengo-lovin' Robs, Dicks, and Barries in town for the Alliance of Independent Media Stores' annual convention. They're not sweating it, though. Successfully scheduling this show at Corona Ranch, an artfully rustic party center/rodeo ring in the pastoral outer reaches of Phoenix, is already a bit of a coup. In April, SB 1070 made Phoenix a pariah to conventions of all stripes. The fucking Republican Party didn't want to bring their biggest soiree here, let alone a group of boutique biz-owning hipsters who cater to the sort of socially conscious customers that schlep around their own burlap bags to stow consumer goods. And that, of course, was before the latest Loughner-related madness.
So, yeah, this show is a big deal, says Calexico singer Joey Burns, and the contingent that'll come from the AIMS convention is a big part of it.
"There was talk of [the convention] not being in Phoenix for several reasons, and now with this, you can only imagine some people might be even more apprehensive," said Burns. "But I think us showing our face . . . and holding this really special concert in this really incredible place, Corona Ranch, I think it's going to help in that whole process of people getting a bigger picture."
That perspective is exactly why Calexico got a call from Kimber Lanning. The Stinkweeds owner draws a lot of water in this town — and within AIMS — and she was eager to flip the silent boycott discussion around on an event colloquially known as "Kimberpalooza" in some quarters. When it looked like the record store dudes might be ready to bolt for less querulous territory, she proposed adding un poco de la Mexican flavor to every aspect of the convention (Flamenco night? Sí!), thus gracefully sidestepping any accusations of insensitivity. Smart thinking, indeed.
Once Kimber settled on that tactic, asking the veteran Tucson-based Ameri-Mexi-cana group to settle folks down with the promise of a concert they won't soon forget was an obvious move. And so we have a Calexico show with support from their pals in 15-member mambo outfit Sergio Mendoza y La Orkesta and Scottsdale's ladies-only mariachi group, Mariachi Pasion. It's not only one of the best and most unique lineups you'll find in this town over the course of the next 11 months, it's something no other city on Earth could do as well as Phoenix.
Oh, and it's open to you and me. Think of this show as the special cookies your mom baked for the houseguests. Sure, they're on the coffee table for "everyone," and you're certainly welcome to have a couple, but be extra polite about it. What does that mean in this context? Maybe balance out any apathy from jaded record store clerks with loud clapping, boisterous cheers, and maybe even a little ayayayay! as necessary.
Tough crowd or not, Calexico singer Joey Burns is excited about the show. When I spoke with him about it a few weeks ago — unfortunately, it was primarily for the purpose of getting his thoughts on the tragedy in Tucson — Burns said his band plans to play an eclectic set that even features a few covers that people have never heard the band do before. Anything to clue the out-of-town tastemakers into the savory flavor of this great state.
"I think Arizona needs these kind of shows. We're going to have Mariachi Pasion, and we're going to have Sergio Mendoza and his orchestra, featuring Salvador Duran, then Calexico is going to play, and when we do these local shows, Sergio and Salvador and a lot of members of his orchestra come up and back us up," he said. "I think it's going to be very special. It's going to ooze atmosphere and everything that we love about this place."