Cumbia, it turns out, is a pretty spooky genre. “I like my coffee dark and my songs darker,” lead singer Joey Burns told the crowd before launching into “Rancho Azul,” a slow-burning ballad about kidnapping and obsessive love. This kind of creepy cumbia enraptured the crowd at Calexico’s early Halloweekend show at the 9:30 Club last Friday night. With slinking beats and eerie minor synths, the band’s live performance provided the perfect soundtrack for a spooky season in DC.

Through a career-spanning set encompassing genres as diverse as cumbia, mariachi, rock, folk, and psychedelia, Calexico proved why they have been an indie scene staple for the last thirty years. The band, originally formed in Tucson, Arizona, pays homage to the Southwest’s distinct musical traditions while pushing forward in new and exciting directions, including an original movie soundtrack and two collaborations with Iron and Wine. 2022’s El Mirador, the band’s tenth LP, finds them exploring norteño, conjunto, and spaghetti western music.

These new songs came to life at the 9:30 Club where the sound was, as always, excellent. Over the course of the evening, the 7-piece band played no less than thirteen instruments, including trumpet, accordion, and vihuela. One particular highlight was Scott Colberg’s extended solo on the upright bass during the psychedelic cumbia of “Crystal Frontier.”

Calexico’s unique blend of genres and styles provides a beautiful example of how people come together despite the political barriers between us. Halfway throughout the group’s set, Burns paused for an introspective moment. “I love this venue with all my heart,” he said. “Reconnecting with others is one of the most important things we can do right now.” These sentiments are echoed on Calexico’s songs like “El Paso,” “Liberada,” and “Under the Wheels” which calls for people to “come together from all corners tonight.” 

Calexico closed the night strong, performing an encore that included an upbeat cover of Los Hijos del Sol’s legendary “Cariñito.” The final song of the evening, the band’s own 2004 hit “Alone Again Or,” found the crowd enthusiastically (and ironically) belting along the chorus “I will be alone again tonight my dear” with sheer joy.

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