1980 and all that: 2000

Calexico - Hot Rail

There will be more about 2000’s instalment of the Reading Festival in my piece on 2001 – if that makes any sense at all.

For now though, let’s say this: Reading 2000 was my first experience of a music festival. I was about to embark on my second year at Lancaster University and it had seemed sensible enough to head Reading-wards for the August bank holiday weekend with my housemates Jon and Ewan.

We were entirely unprepared. We found ourselves asking to borrow a bottle opener from the neighbouring tent of lads who were phoning home for their GCSE results.

Reading consolidated my love of some acts (Ben & Jason, Grandaddy and Elliot Smith), proved entirely disappointing in the case of The Stereophonics and formed my introduction to some of the bands I still regard as firm favourites: The Delgados (more on them in 2002), Clearlake (more on them in 2001) and Calexico (more on them right here).

Calexico were a happy accident of a discovery. They were headlining one of the smaller stages while Oasis took to the main stage. There were just two problems with the Oasis set (a) it was raining (b) they weren’t very good.

I’m not quite sure which of those two reasons was the principal drive in us seeking entertainment elsewhere. I’d like to think that it was simply the quality of the performance because who’s going to admit they chickened out of seeing a band at a festival because of a bit of rain?

In two very important ways, Calexico’s set was sooooo much better than that of Oasis: (a) they were astounding (b) they were performing in a tent, protecting us from the elements.

I’d not heard Calexico before. My much more musically astute housemate Ewan had. Of course he had. That’s one of the reasons he was my friend. But after just a single song I was an instant convert to the dusty, rusty alt-country sound, peppered with hints of Marriachi. Spell binding. Utterly gorgeous. I loved it. And I love it still.

So should you.

‘Ballad of Cable Hogue’ is a Tarrantino film set to song (“She whispered ‘Je t’aime, baby’, as she fired that gun at me”) – complete with a sound that wouldn’t sound entirely out of place underscoring Kill Bill.

Then again, its filmic sound shouldn’t come as too much of a shock. The song’s title and theme refer back to a Peckinpah Western of the same name.

For evoking images of a particular place and the particular senses associated with that place, Calexico cannot be beaten. You can feel the sun beating against your head and sweat trickling down your back as you listen to them.

You can see arid landscapes and smell the dust. You can taste the bourbon and spiced meat tickling your tongue. And you can hear the crickets chirruping in the dusk.

And in ‘Ballad of Cable Hogue’ you get a good ol’ fashioned murder ballad too.

What’s not to like?

Music blogs, reviews and more