London WC1 Drill Hall

...[a]Calexico[/a] both love and respect the traditions they're messing with, as well as not taking them entirely seriously...

Watch where you step. There are snakes and scorpions underfoot, a scalding desert wind blasting in your face, and word of a gunman on your trail. You’ve got the gold, you’ve charmed the sultry [I]mademoiselle[/I], you’ve learned the plot by heart.

It’s an old story, but one which can still be seductive in the right hands. Joey Burns and John Convertino know it exceptionally well, so much so that almost every word and note of [a]Calexico[/a] is informed by an artful way with a clichi. It’s music made of myth, pretty intoxicating to men of a certain age who’ve read one Cormac MacCarthy novel too many, for starters.

Without their usual troupe of pedal steel players, mariachi trumpeters and tumbleweed wranglers, Convertino (drums, maracas, vibes) and Burns (voice, guitar, loads of pedals) are less expansive, but no less evocative. Ennio Morricone, among others, has taken this ride before, of course, but at least [a]Calexico[/a] come from the proper desert town of Tucson, Arizona, and have a greater claim on the dusty muse than the usual suburban cowboy dreamers.

What’s more, they’re smart enough to see how ludicrous the whole lonesome pose can be. “This song’s about a big ol’ tongue going through the side of a cheek,” announces Burns before ‘Ballad Of Cable Hogue’, and as he proceeds to perform what we’ll charitably call a ‘homage’ to Lee Hazlewood, it’s with good reason.

The secret, though, is to handle tackiness with taste. ‘The Ride (Pt II)’ may be all swagger, twang and rarely glimpsed neon, but it has mystique, too, a sense that [a]Calexico[/a] both love and respect the traditions they’re messing with, as well as not taking them entirely seriously. Now, if only we can make it to the border one more time…