Califone have carved such an idiosyncratic legacy for themselves that whatever various genres try to cling to them only the add-on ‘deep’ seems to have any right to stick. Oh the experimental-alt-country-rock hijinks these beardy fellas get up to! After 15 years of being active, and with their excellent 13th album Stitches out this year, the three-piece show no signs of offering a ‘lite’ version to their sound. Indeed it’s almost comforting that Califone show no desire to turn a new leaf and go for the big time. Instead they’ve almost refined their goals even more.
Last year the band did a relentless ‘Living Room Tour’ across America, where they performed in whatever living room fans would offer them. I myself even volunteered my place up in Durham, UK, which unfortunately did not cause impetus for a European tour.
However a year later, The Lexington was not much bigger than a living room. In fact the guys looked like they had come straight out of a living room. Lead singer and guitarist Tim Rutili wore a layer clothes that could not be easily distinguished from each other, and he and likewise dressed regular Ben Massarella on bass remained seated for most of the show. This was not a sign of lethargy but more an indifference to keeping up appearances. In fact making an impression beyond the music seems not have been on their minds for quite a while.
The act started with possibly Califone’s best song ‘All My Friends are Funeral Singers,’ that gradually came into being through random looping and feedback, which the band used to transition all their songs throughout the set. Like opening your eyes and having them gradually put into focus. The solid power chords and really excellent drumming ‘Funeral Singers’ (actually drumming was superb throughout) was a great entrance, but from a personal level I was hoping of it being further in the set when they had built up energy.
Then after a few gags by the band about ‘Free Bird’ and an imagining an 80’s film called ‘Summer Boners’ starring Chevy Chase and with three sequels- the band got into the thick of it with their new album Stitches. And though their latest album doesn’t have the immediate power as some of Califone’s earlier greats such as Quicksand/Cradlesnakes or Roots and Crowns, it did have a slow burning effect of consistently good songs after another, which their performance reflected.
The band were at their strongest with the louder stuff, and the set highlight was the banger ‘Electric Fence’ from their second eponymous EP. They also shrewdly accepted picked out some of their earlier greats such as the requested ‘Michigan Girls’ and ‘The Orchids’. Then finally ended with the great beating chorus of their new single ‘Frosted Tips’ where Rutili even decided to stand
So Califone created a handsomely informal version of what their fans had imagined of them. They finely rode the line between pockets of beauty and grating background noise. I wonder if my interest would have wavered if the set had continued, or even they had accepted an encore. But this qualm was not so much a doubt about the band’s ability but perhaps a reflection on the band itself: That their greatness rests on the fleeting glimpses of wonder through the layers of thick noise. And if you strain to hard to find it, you’ll always end up disappointed.