Bahamas are a unique band, with a drummer, a guitarist/lead singer, and two female backup vocalists. That’s it – no bass, no keys. Just lead man Afie Jurvanen‘s soulful voice and tasteful finger-style guitar to lead the way.
And he did just that, entrancing the crowd like he was born to do it, with songs mostly off their latest release, Bar Chords. That’s saying something. Because many of the tunes skew quiet, with hushed, whispering vocals, and delicate guitar riffs that include Jurvanen sliding all over to cover the bass notes as well. Oh, and a lot of denim – Jurvanen was head to toe, and the two backup singers were rocking out to perfection in tight, high-waisted mom jeans.
A couple songs in, they hit their stride with the rollicking I Got You Babe, a song that really showed off how tight all three vocalists are together. All I can say is simply, spot on. Jurvanen’s voice is nimble enough to reach down low, then climb into the treetops moments later.
After that was Caught Me Thinkin, which featured an almost Dan Hicks-style doo doo doo doo from the backup singers. But the tune also showcased Jurvanen’s ample chops on the guitar, as he busted out numerous lightening quick runs between chords, adding flourishes here and there before sliding right back into the groove.
Jurvanen could easily be a lead guitarist, but what is so refreshing – and something that many bands miss – is the fact that he is tasteful when he pulls out his bag of tricks. He doesn’t shove anything in your face, even though he easily could.
Bahamas picked up more and more momentum as the set went on, with Okay Alright I’m Alive, Your Sweet Touch, and then a killer slow-burning Never Again that showed off the band’s vocal prowess. These guys attack their harmonies aggressively and confidently, because, well, they know they’re that good.
“You see this right here?” said Jurvanen gesturing to the interaction between the crowd and his band. “This is what the music business is now. So thanks for coming.”
They slid into their closer Lost in the Light, the first track off Bar Chords. When finished, the crowd provided a rousing ovation, the likes of which you seldom see for an opener.
As subdued and simple as Bahamas is, Calexico was the opposite. They have a lot going on – a couple trumpets, vibraphone, keys, acoustic and electric guitars, accordions lap steel, stand up bass. And they use it all to create an almost orchestral sound at times – which is of course tinged with their trademark Tejano sound. I must say that the sound all night was excellent, which is no cheap trick when you’ve got that much to deal with.
Right away the twin trumpets took center stage, belting out clear, blistering high notes on opener Epic, the first track off Algiers, the band’s brand new album. The album actually moves a tad away from their southwestern sound, but when they played live, most tracks picked up more of that Tex-Mex pop.
Lead singer Joey Burns voice was clear and crisp as ever, though he was happy to showcase all the other musicians along for the ride. A few songs in, he invited a guest onstage to sit in on the vibraphone. The guest was the band’s merch guy (whose name escapes me) who chopped out a tasteful and speedy solo that got the crowd going more than what you would think for a dude hitting stuff with mallets.
Next up was one “for those of you who have been listening for awhile,” said Burns. It was a tune off 2000’s Hot Wire that showed off more trumpet, this time with a damper that added a jazzy flare.
Calexico continued to build, sifting through Spanish and country-tinged tracks off Algiers. Of particular note was the sweet and simple folkster Fortune Teller, which found Burns using his straight forward voice, then elevating into whispy high vocals to match the ghosty lap steel lines.
As they finished up for the night with not one, but two quick encores that concluded with The Vanishing Mind, it was clear that this band knows who they are, and they mine that territory relentlessly. At times, and especially in a live concert setting, that territory can get a little boxed-in, and the trumpets can certainly overwhelm things easily.
But damn, they do it so well. I even heard KC Star music writer Tim Finn let out a couple Woo hoos, as Calexico brought it all home.