Calexico / Woodpigeon Mod Club, Toronto ON July 6

Calexico / Woodpigeon Mod Club, Toronto ON July 6
Renowned as an almost effortlessly great live band, Tucson, AZ’s Calexico exhibited a particularly casual aura, delving into their back catalogue to get to their core before a Sunday evening crowd in Toronto. If there was resignation in the air, it was caressed by Calgary’s Woodpigeon, a large ensemble whose set was difficult to place. Given Calexico’s recent work with Sam Beam, the bill made sense, as Woodpigeon bear a remarkable sonic resemblance to Iron and Wine, right down to singer Mark Hamilton’s voice and phrasing. Yet, even as they occasionally lurched into grittier rock fare, there was ultimately a sameness about Woodpigeon’s folk ballads. The murky mix didn’t help matters and the obvious joy and exuberance of Hamilton’s band-mates wasn’t enough to give Woodpigeon any high distinction. And then along came Joey Burns and John Convertino to shake the early evening cobwebs out of the room with the punk-like guitar and drums attack of "Scout.” As an opener, the move towards their first Calexico record seemed deliberate. The word on the forthcoming Carried to Dust suggests a return to Burns and Convertino’s roots as a duo recording unit, with the exemplary band-mates they’ve assimilated into Calexico mostly adding frosting to their cake. That nostalgic vibe pervaded the night’s set, which featured songs from virtually every major Calexico release to date. While live staples like "Guero Canelo” and "Crystal Frontier” stirred the crowd thanks to the multi-instrumental talents of Jacob Valenzuela and Martin Wenk, the old and new songs each seemed even fresher for their rareness. Special guest violinist Julie Penner brought graceful sophistication to the forthcoming "Two Silver Trees,” as well as the decade-old "Minas de Cobre (For Better Metal),” creating eerie tones with pedal steel player Paul Niehaus. Penner shone again on "El Picador,” which blended nicely into "Fractured Air.” Throughout it all, Calexico seemed the most at peace with their strength as a unit, playing one great song after another with nothing to prove to anyone but themselves.