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Gapers Block published from April 22, 2003 to Jan. 1, 2016. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
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Review Tue Feb 04 2014

Califone Comes Home to Chicago, 2/1

It's fitting that Califone originally hails from Chicago, as I feel their murky concoction of dissonant soundscapes with a folk/blues foundation has always been an appropriate soundtrack for a city as industrial and mysterious as this one. Chicago is arguably the largest city in the nation where you can still hear the old, weird America scratching at the backdoor, and Califone lives right at that intersection of modernity and antiquity. The band stopped at Lincoln Hall last Saturday in support of 2013's Stitches. It is the first Califone album Rutili has made outside of the Windy City, instead crafting it in Los Angeles and throughout the Southwest. He's also touring with a new lineup, including multi-instrumentalist Will Hendricks, and percussionists Joe Westerlund and Rachel Blumberg.

Califone is a kind of alien Americana. There is a rustic grime that settles on the songs (reinforced by Rutili's frequent use of a slide on his acoustic, evoking the haunt of early American blues), but these tropes are strengthened and challenged by the band's use of noise, found sound, and their unconventional approaches to conventional instruments. The thrill of their show emanates from these strange sounds, as you find yourself wondering how they are actually creating the music you're hearing onstage. At one point, Rutili was scratching out chords on his acoustic, and Hendricks was focused on his bass. Out of this murk came the twinkle of a decaying piano chord played in a high octave. I focused on the dual drummers, expecting one of them to be huddled over a keyboard or a trigger, only to see four hands focused on floor toms and percussion. The band eschews pre-recorded tracks, so I knew that wasn't a possibility; I felt like I was hearing things through the speakers that in no way correlated with what I saw on stage. It's this discordance between the visual of the band and the mystery behind the sounds they generate that make Califone such a compelling live act.

After a hypnotic performance by opener William Tyler, Califone opened with "Don't Let Me Die Nervous" off of Sometimes Good Weather Follows Bad People (as an aside, Califone are supremely skilled at naming their songs and records). "Funeral Singers" was the second song of the set and gathered a touch more steam than its studio counterpart. By its conclusion the song harnessed a graceful, anthemic liftoff that nonetheless sounded wary of itself. It was a great entryway into a set dominated by tracks from Stitches, an album that covertly flirts with conventional songwriting and puts a greater emphasis on the melodies and lyrics of the songs, rather than the soundscapes they inhabit. Highlights of the show included a powerful reading of "Michigan Girls", off of 2003's Quicksand/Cradlesnakes, and "A Thin Skin of Bullfight Dust", as Rutili plugged in an electric to create a more raucous sound with the opening act Tyler, who guested on the final songs of the set.

Rutili struck a loose vibe throughout the show. He mentioned several times that it was a hometown gig for him, and his relaxed approach showed it. There were a few back-and-forths between band and audience through the night, but the best comment came near the end of the set, when an unseen audience member exclaimed, "wow, you guys are GOOD," as if shocked by his own epiphany. The band and crowd both laughed, but he had a point; Califone's greatness onstage seemed to be all about the balance struck between each new sonic sleight of hand and the melancholy coursing through the songs themselves. Every song and sound brought a little epiphany of its own; even as Califone's music struck your heart, their approach kept you on your toes.

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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.

Read this feature »


  Chicago Music Media

Alarm Magazine
Big Rock Candy Mountain
Boxx Magazine
Brooklyn Vegan Chicago
Can You See The Sunset From The Southside
Chicago Reader Music
Chicagoist Arts & Events
Chicago Music Guide
Chicago Singles Club
Country Music Chicago
Cream Team
Dark Jive
The Deli Chicago
Jim DeRogatis
Fake Shore Drive
Gowhere Hip Hop
The Hood Internet
Jaded in Chicago
Largehearted Boy
Little White Earbuds
Live Fix Blog
Live Music Blog
Loud Loop Press
Oh My Rockness
Pop 'stache
Pop Matters
Resident Advisor
Sound Opinions
Sun-Times Music Blog
Theft Liable to Prosecution
Tribune Music
UR Chicago
Victim Of Time
WFMU's Beware of the Blog
Windy City Rock


Abbey Pub
Andy's Jazz Club
Aragon Ballroom
Auditorium Theatre
Beat Kitchen
Bottom Lounge
Buddy Guy's Legends
The Burlington
California Clipper
Concord Music Hall
Congress Theater
Cubby Bear
Double Door
Elbo Room
Empty Bottle
Green Mill
The Hideout
Honky Tonk BBQ
House of Blues
Kingston Mines
Lincoln Hall
Logan Square Auditorium
Mayne Stage
The Mutiny
Old Town School of Folk Music
Park West
The Promontory
Red Line Tap
Reggie's Rock Club & Music Joint
The Riviera
Thalia Hall
The Shrine
Symphony Center
Tonic Room
Uncommon Ground
The Vic
The Whistler

  Labels, Promoters
  & Shops:

Alligator Records
Beverly Records
Bloodshot Records
Dave's Records
Delmark Records
Drag City
Dusty Groove
Flameshovel Records
Groove Distribution
He Who Corrupts
Jam Productions
Jazz Record Mart
Kranky Records
Laurie's Planet of Sound
Minty Fresh
Numero Group
mP Shows
Permanent Records
Reckless Records
Smog Veil Records
Southport & Northport Records
Thick Records
Thrill Jockey Records Touch & Go/Quarterstick Records
Victory Records

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Transmission is the music section of Gapers Block. It aims to highlight Chicago music in its many varied forms, as well as cover touring acts performing in the city. More...
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