When Calexico Plays Calexico

Calexico the band is a savvy swap-meet shopper's collection of treasured finds, a fascinating mix and match of forgotten Americana, Tex-Mex, tumbleweeds, alt.-folk, desert expanses, bluesy mariachi, a sharpshooter's steely stare and Latin jazz, all intermingled in a nuanced play on the idea of an untamed border-town identity. And Calexico the city is a strip of gas stations, Mexican auto-insurance brokers and fast-food joints leading to a port of entry 200 miles east of San Diego on the border between California and Mexico (hence the name: CAL-ifornia m-EXICO). Chances are, when the two finally meet this Friday, there's probably not going to be much of a fuss.

It's kind of a cruel joke: Who in Calexico will show up to watch Calexico? One thing's certain: Future Farmers of America (Calexico, California, chapter) in no way represents the Arizona band's cosmopolitan fan base. Even the event's main organizer is lukewarm about the band. Cristobal Rodriguez, the Calexican who spearheaded this Calexico-at-Calexico show, admits, “Yeah, I never was really too into Calexico.”

But it's for a good cause, anyway—a benefit for Border Angels, a nonprofit organization that tries to reduce death rates around brutal desert-border crossings. Rodriguez, a web developer who also hosts a community site called calecia.com, wanted to launch a series of concerts in Calexico and figured Calexico the band would be his best bet. He posted something of an invitation on the Calexico message board, using rhyming couplets and more than a healthy share of hyperbole (“I challenge you to participate in a performance/To help our children with your following's benevolence”), humbly requesting Calexico save his little town from the clutches of “poverty and pollution” by playing a benefit show. After talking with band member Joey Burns and the appropriate label and tour managers, Calexico agreed to meet Rodriguez's challenge.

Make no mistake: Rodriguez is certainly excited about Calexico's visit. But will his enthusiasm catch on? Although this is the first time a band of such critical stature has visited Calexico, the 500-seater Rodney Auditorium will be far from capacity on Friday night. Calexico (the band) may have critical celebrity, but Calexico (the city) has cable TV—and the band's imaginary countryscapes might not be a match for that real (and deadly) desert outside. This will be the first time Calexico ever plays Calexico—we wonder who's gonna win?

Calexico performs with Psy-Fi (a local Calexico band) after a speaker from Border Angels at Rodney Auditorium, Calexico San Diego State University Campus, 720 Heber Ave., Calexico, (760) 768-5500. Fri., 6 p.m. Advance, $7; $10 at the Door. All ages.

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