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Review Wed Apr 23 2008

Califone @ The Vic 4/22/08

califone poster by Dan Grzeca

Califone came home to Chicago for a two night stint at the Vic, opening up for Iron and Wine, but they seemed to be a bit confused as to where they actually lay their hats. "It's good to be home," founding member Tim Rutili said with a sly grin. "Or at least home for these guys," he continued, pointing to the other multi-instrumentalists that make up the band. Rutili's banter retreated casually, but he managed to explain the obtuse reference to his move to Los Angeles with a rhetorical question: "This is Hollywood, right?"

Whether or not any of the members currently reside in our fair city matters little, for if Califone has a home city, it certainly is Chicago, regardless of the Chicago/Los Angeles hometown their MySpace page declares. After Red Red Meat ended around the time all alt-rock ended, Rutili began some solo experiments before enlisting former Meat members Ben Massarella and Brian Deck to fill out the sound. While Deck left to produce some amazing albums with Iron & Wine, Modest Mouse and Chin Up Chin Up (not to mention a couple for Califone), Massarella stuck around, the band filled out and they signed to local independent label Thrill Jockey.

(Poster by Dan Grzeca.)

Even those obvious connections aren't necessary for Califone to be considered a Chicago band because their inability to be classified allows them to stew peacefully in the melting pot that is the Chicago music scene. Other than the vague experimental folk label that is often slapped on their backs, I couldn't describe the band sonically without taking the wind out of their sails. But, seeing them live definately helped me understand the dynamic behind the ensemble.

Each member plays many different instruments with Jim Becker and Rutili focusing on strings and keys while Joe Adamik and Massarella pound away on anything that can be percussed. These two groupings feed off each other with no member taking the lead, except for when Rutili sings, producing a strung out vibe that emotes from the stage as a collage of meditation. Massarella took things the furthest, finding new ways to make noise such as spinning a metal ball around a steel drum and hitting what looked like a ceramic jug until its fall from his kit coincided with the ending of the song.

What really separates Califone's experimentation from the new sounds coming out of noise-punk or any of the computer-based hipster bands is it's ability to simmer rather than reach a fever. This is particularly helpful when soliciting collaborations, like last night's piano and xylophone contributions from headliner Sam Beam. Beam casually appeared from the backstage and just fit into the jam without much fuss over his celebrity. He played two songs with the band, peppering their set without interrupting the flow of their rhythm. Some members of Califone returned the favor later on during Beam's set, but it was in more of a backup mode.

The whole night felt like at times a carnival and at times a funeral. Califone definitely evokes the darker side of our waking life, but the variance in the instrumentation and the way the band members interact as showmen felt very vaudevillian and creepy given the haunting tones. Plus the slide guitarist never really stopped playing so there was this backwoods soundtrack constantly playing and keeping the audience in a certain mood for the entirety of the show.

It would be worth it for Califone to explore the idea of collaborating with Iron & Wine similar to Calexico's contribution to the In the Reins EP. And even though I enjoy the pairing, an all-ages show with a band on the Garden State soundtrack does not bode well for good seating, so maybe their next collaboration should be a studio effort so I can see this fine Chicago band a little closer up.

 
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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

Our Final Transmission Days

By The Gapers Block Transmission Staff

Transmission staffers share their most cherished memories and moments while writing for Gapers Block.

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