I first met Calexico on a Friday afternoon in Brixton, south London, in the year 2000. They were in town to promote their third album – a record of mariachi-tinged songs with a dusty, cinematic sweep – called ‘Hot Rail’. Since then, I’ve become a massive fan of their music, and been lucky enough to shoot them at gigs and soundchecks over the intervening year – including a gig in my old hometown of Wellington, New Zealand.
Calexico’s music is a rich mix, taking cues from the Mexican music which lies just over the Arizona border, along with hints of jazz, soundtrack, indie rock and country. This blend is in keeping with the band’s diverse background – singer Joey Burns hails from Montreal, drummer John Convertino is from New York, slide guitarist Paul Niehaus calls Nashville home and multi-instrumentalist Martin Wenk is from Germany.
Calexico may not tour quite as relentlessly as they did at the turn of the century, but they’re still releasing records and hitting the road as much as they can. Their most recent album, the New Orleans-recorded ‘Algiers’, came out last year, and the band have been touring in short, sharp bursts since. Burns and Convertino are from Tucson, Arizona, but their fanbase is spread far and wide across the globe – they’re big in France and Germany, live favourites in New Zealand, chart-toppers in Greece and still a big draw in the UK.
Their most recent tour was in February this year, and while a London date wasn’t on the itinerary, Brighton was. Having not shot a band for my soundcheck project for a good year or so, it was the perfect opportunity; for this show, the band were playing the Brighton Corn Exchange, a grand venue which is part of the Brighton Dome and a venue I’ve heard a great deal about but never visited.
It’s a beautiful space – a long, rectangular room with a raised stage in front of huge windows. It’s always nice to shoot soundchecks with good light – and the natural light pouring through the windows adds a really nice touch.
I’ve read enough advice from photographers before that if you’re doing such a long-term project on film, the trick is to keep the film and cameras consistent; all my soundcheck work is taken on a Nikon F100 with a Nikkor 85/1.8 lens, and an all-manual Nikon FM2N with a Nikkor 50/1.8, on Fuji Neopan which is pushed to 6400. That may sound a lot, but the processing – by the excellent Peak Imaging up in Sheffield- leaves just enough grain without washing out the strong blacks.
I’ve shot Calexico enough times now that I can tiptoe around the stage without them really noticing – exactly what you want when taking reportage shots like these. The ever-friendly Mr Burns was struggling with a cold, though the capacity crowd a few hours later wouldn’t have noticed.
Normally, once the show starts, I’ve stopped taking pics, but I wanted to try something different this time, and I’d also taken along one of my Pentax ESIIs and a couple of rolls of Fuji Superia 400 – it’s a bright and brilliant colour print fine with superb grain. Having shot black and white with bands for so long, it’s nice to sometimes mix things up.
The colour shots don’t have the slick definition of digital, but the Superia’s gritty grain gives them something a little different – especially on the pic of drummer John above, with a colour palette that looks like something from the 60s or 70s.
I’ve always enjoyed taking pics of Calexico – but I particularly like this bunch. I’m eagerly awaiting their next visit.
To see more pics from the Brighton soudcheck and gig, check out the Flickr set.