As I listened to Califone play, I thought to myself that this band’s music seems composed entirely of grace notes. Sure, there are melodies, lyrics and all the traditional trappings of standard pop, but what makes it so enjoyable is everything else. Twittering rhythms and layered sounds are accentuated by subtle and ever-changing percussion. There are bells and rattling beads and wind chimes and stings and grungy, dirty, grinding bass guitar licks all floating below Tim Rutili’s ghostly voice. To say the music is just grace notes isn’t fair, but it characterizes how different this group’s sound is. It’s post-rock and experimental, but with a folk heart and loveable DIY aesthetic.
The group is economical with its sound. At four members, things are full but restrained and the players glide through a wide spectrum of instruments, each perfect for the three bars it appears and then seamlessly gone. This perhaps culminated best with the band’s haunting reworking of “Giving Away the Bride,” the lead from the band’s most recent album, All My Friends Are Funeral Singers. As they played it, I realized I was grinning nearly uncontrollably, the gorgeous, yet rough and harsh piece unwinding, following the shape I knew from the album, but growing organically before me into something fuller. It certainly stands as one of the top single song performances of this year.
The opening band was Bloodiest, a group that was metal, but not quite. They initially peaked my interest with their first song which built up a sonic wall, growling and growing but always seemingly held back on a tight leash. Unfortunately, the rest of their set struck me as generic. Whereas Califone is sparing, Bloodiest seemed sprawling and too large for it’s own good. The group returned to the stage during Califone’s set for an improvised track and it was here again that I got that sonically restrained surge. I suppose it is a testament to Califone’s own technical prowess that they can perform a better Bloodiest than poor Bloodiest can.
Despite being a local Chicago band, Califone hasn’t played much recently and this set seemed to be a one-off. I braved a ridiculous commute and a very ,very late Sunday set time to see these guys, so I was a bit disappointed when the band wrapped after little more than an hour. It’s hard to reconcile the high level of rigmarole I went through with the meager payoff, but I can say with confidence that when they were on, they did not disappoint. Perhaps like everything else with their music, this was just another example of a quick, flickering grace note… economical and delicate then gone.