Beautiful Melodies telling you Terrible things Vol. XIV
At first glance it's sorta strange to think of a show featuring both Calexico and Cake. While they both are equally unique in their sounds, it doesn't seem like they'd be good to mix and drink together. One is a Tucson born band full of Mariachi and Tex-Mex flavors and influences on it's blend of acoustic rock, the other is a funky, soulful take on alternative rock. However, they aren't without their similarities: Both have sounds that majorly rely on and use horns, and both were playing at the Mesa Amphitheatre on Friday night....
The Venue - Mesa Amphitheatre: I won't lie, I have a soft spot for Mesa Amp. It was the location for just the second concert my soul mate and I attended, and when it comes down to it, I've never had a bad experience there. It's an aging venue, and I hear the backstage area doesn't have air condition, so sure, it could probably use a little re-vamping in that regard, but I can't complain about much else. The parking is wonderful, I'm not sure if it costs in the parking lot directing in front of the venue, but there's a parking lot to the side of it that is certainly free and certainly offers a quick escape route - if you know this secret backdoor. On top of that this is not a Live Nation/Ticketmaster venue, it's through Luckyman, what does this mean? Well, first off lower convenience charges when you buy your ticket, and since LN/TM aren't taking their usual percentage fees from the concert itself, things like band merch and drinks, while not likely to beat a shirt at your local Salvation Army, are far cheaper. A shirt that would cost $35-45 at a LN concert is $20 here. Then there's the view, I've been everywhere man (song reference intended) at this place: right at the rail, to the side of the venue, in the midst of the crowd, on the sorta seat ledge steps, on the far back hill, and it's not a bad view or listening experience anywhere. So it's safe to say, as far as mid-size venues go (in the 5,000 range) for bands of a mid-large size cult type following (Cake for instance) or for bands that could sell larger venues but like the slightly more intimate size of a 5,000 seater, Mesa Amp is still one of my favorites.
Act One - Calexico: The life of an opening band can be a tough one, no matter if you're well known or not, which Calexico is well known enough to grab some pretty decent audiences on their own accord. Typically you start when a good chunk of the crowd is not yet there, many are still just walking in, and the ones already there? Usually walking around finding a spot; talking to friends; buying up some merch; getting their drink on. In short, anything but paying attention to what's playing on stage. In some ways Calexico was perfect for this, their relaxing and good mood inducing sounds kept the audience light and more than just a few quickly started paying attention. I even spotted a few dancing heavily to the Latino-influenced take on indie rock, including a guy with a sombrero much too large for his head. Heck, it was a sombrero much to large for the Thing's head, but it was an entertaining sight none the less. Some at first were taken a back a bit as their first song ("Across a Wire") was VERY heavily mariachi influenced, but by the end of their set, they seemed to have won the majority of the crowd over, a compliment to a band opening a show. They also brought Dark Sky Percussion out to add, well, percussion of course, to the last couple of tunes, and seemed to get the crowd really revved up by the time their set finished. Most seemed to enjoy just bopping their head a bit to the catchy tunes and more than a few asked me who they were when they were done (if you weren't there to catch the first two songs, you wouldn't have heard them speak their band name). In fact, after the set, the red-headed mid-30's mom, sitting next to us with her 13 year old or so son, leaned over and asked who they were. When I replied she gasped "I love Calexico! No wonder I was loving that stuff, why didn't I recognize it?" Simply put, the short but sweet 45 minute setlist including a few covers in addition to some of their own material. Lead-singer Joey Burns at one-point in between songs reminded the crowd "If you ever get lonely here in Arizona, remember, Tucson is right next to you, much love."
Highlight of the Night & Final Score: I enjoyed the latter songs on their 8-song set more than the first few (strangely the first few where in the 3-4 minute range where-as the last few were in the 6-8 minute range) but overall, it was a fun set that showcased the band for what they are: Extremely talented musicians. They also brought Dark Sky Percussion out to add, well, percussion of course, to the last couple of tunes. My favorite of the night was their cover of "Corona" and the performance of "Crystal Frontier." Very Solid.
"Act two" - Rep from Border Action Network: Let me just remind you all of something, no one goes to a concert or rock show to be preached at, no matter if they agree with it or not. This lady from the BAN comes up and she could have said what she needed to say, and been gone. She could have said her name, who she represented, that they have a table by the merch booth, come stop by, remember to vote and let's take back AZ. 90 seconds is all she needed, but over 9 minutes (at least) is what she took. She was angry and pushy, and as I said, people come to concerts as escapism from their lives, not to hear a sermon. It got so bad, how bad you ask? Well, there were a few solo claps here and there as she spouted, yet when her mic cut off for a few seconds, in this crowd of 20 and 30 somethings, a huge roar of cheers came out. Then she continued on, even more angry and pushy, even hateful at times. You may or may not dig SB1070. You might be like me not proclaim sides, I'm a feminist. My father works in construction and I've personally seen first hand what illegal immigration has done to destroy the economy of that trade inside and out. At the same time I hate to see the Latino community unfairly targeted. The VAST majority of them are some of the nicest, hardest working, most trust-worthy and earnest people you'll ever meet. Also, they probably take more pride and thanks in being able to be a part of America than you ever will. Yet she doesn't try to make that point, no however at one point she actually said "I urge you, no, I DEMAND YOU..." as she points heavily at the audience. What? I love editing for a living, but someone sits down seriously demands me to edit a video, and I'll quit and never edit again just out of me being stubborn. Point is, as I said, no one wants to get preached at a rock concert, for or against your cause, the bad thing? She probably didn't earn anybody to consider her cause because the way she went about it, in fact some couldn't figure out what her cause was. My lady at point turns to me and says "I' not even following what cause she's fighting for anymore..." she was so bad in her approach.
Cake knows how to do it. They didn't preach, instead, before performing their rather beautiful song "Mexico" (I urge, nay, DEMAND you to check it out!) they gave a nice shout-out and dedication to all Mexican-Americans and those visiting from Mexico in the audience. Classy. Speaking of of Cake...
Act Three - Cake: Cake recently had one of the lowest selling #1 albums in the history of the Nielson-Soundscan era. Why would that be worth bragging about? Because they released it completely independently on their own record, a testament both to what you can do for yourself and a statement of the Band's cult following since their rather unexpected success on top-40 radio in the mid/late 90's-early 00's. They opened up slow with their well-done cover of Willie Nelson's "Sad Songs & Waltzes," picked it up a little bit more with their own "Opera Singer" and then continued the build up to an explosion by the end of the next song, "Sheep go to Heaven." By the end lead singer McCrea had the crowd singing along to the refrain of "Sheep go to Heaven, Goats go to Hell" and ultimately just the first part as he morphed the latter part of the phrase into re-peats of "Go to Hell." At one point he pointed out some hipsters near the front and shouted "you f**ckers, I see you there with your hands crossed along your chest," then waved them off as if to say "sing along or give your spot at the front to someone who wants it." At that point he and the band had the audience in their back-pocket, and kept them there. Even through an extended 10 minute break where they gave away an Apple tree to an audience member. One of the funniest quips McCrea had to offer was "this isn't for the drunk frat guy who wants to get everything, no, f**k you, shut up or we'll hunt you down you drunk piece of sh*t." He made the girl who got the tree (she had to guess it's type) promise to send a picture of the planted tree to their website so they could post it alongside others from similar concerts.
Also, I make it sound like he has a potty mouth, but he really doesn't, their music itself, in all it's unique humor, is rather clean and in between songs he popped out a few curse words, but kept it clean for the most part. All in all Cake zipped through a 14-song set that included all the well-known tunes, including "Never There" to finish up the regular set and a three-song encore that included "Short Skirt, Long Jacket" (who DOESN'T want one of those girls?) and "The Distance." They also had a few choice picks from their most recent album, including "Mustache Man" and "Sick of You" even going back to their first ever release with "Jolene" (not to be confused with the Dolly Parton song). All in all, a nice variety of hits and non-hits and career-spanning material. McCrea not only took time to thank those who "noticed what we didn't think anyone would notice" (the afore-mentioned independently released new LP) but at one point thanked all those who came out and decided to spend their hard earned money with them, knowing that there are so many entertainment options you can spend it on. As I said before, classy.
Highlight of the Night & Final Score: McCrea showing himself to be such a great frontman for live shows was quite a surprise, I really didn't know what to expect, but he didn't just encourage or enjoy audience interaction, he built it up. Still, my favorite was "Sheep go to Heaven," I still remember the first time it played on the radio and I heard it, and it didn't disappoint live. It's early, it's only June, but at this point? Cake had been the BEST SHOW OF 2011 SO FAR. My only complaint/wish? For a longer (it was just under 90 mins) set...
Tuneful of Sugar: For those who find pretty pictures and pasted words not enough...
Sheep go to Heaven - Cake live at Mesa Amp by Hudson-Hawk
Corona - Calexico cover Corona at Mesa Amp by Hudson-Hawk
Corona - Calexico cover Corona at Mesa Amp by Hudson-Hawk