Saturday, June 26, 2004

Califone at Berbati's Pan

Last night we went to Berbati's to see Califone, one of my favorite bands. I was bit anxious about the show because out of the last four shows scheduled in Portland, they only made it to two - van trouble on one occasion delivered them in time to play 2 rushed songs, and on another occasion Tim got deathly ill and cancelled the show... so I was delighted to see Ben Massarella (percussion) milling about outside when we arrived.

There were three bands:

Holy confusion, Batman

The Holy Sons are something like what would have happened if Jimi Hendrix had been a Mormon. The center of the band is Emil Amos, an intentionally obscure musician whose musical talent is quite impressive, but I found the lyrics to be occasionally trite and he seemed to have an agenda, something he was trying to sell us with his music. The better parts of the show sounded a bit like the Clairvoyants (this is a good thing), while the rest would have made straight-edge emo-core kids blush. Gotta give him credit for sticking to his ideals, but it just didn't move me much.

Arches and Aisles - and Gates

Rebecca Gates, formerly of the Spinanes, was on next, skillfully supported by Amy Domingues on organ and cello. Picture a continuum of all musicians spread out before you, arranged according to 'feel'. Draw a line connecting P.J. Harvey to Billie Holiday. (Work with me here, people.) Draw another connecting Liz Phair to Juliana Hatfield. At the point where those lines cross, move a small amount in just about any direction, and you'll find Rebecca Gates. (WTF he's making us do geometry now? mwahahaaa.) Rebecca was all over the place, from indie-pop to soulfully-sultry, with bitterness and blues and mirth and melody mixed in throughout. She's got an amazing voice, and put on a damn fine show, and I'm going to get her Arches and Aisles and Ruby Series CDs, as well as try to dig up some of the old Spinanes stuff.

scotch & ice; percodans; high on fumes; airplane ride

Califone! w0000t :) The evolution of this band continues to amaze me. I've seen them at the Satyricon, where I felt (pleasantly) like I'd stumbled into an opium den while a gig was going on; at the Blackbird, where they were having so much fun jamming it was more like a livingroom gig than a concert; and now at Berbati's, where they broke the few remaining preconceptions I had about them... they are their own type of music, there is no genre for this stuff, and this live show went beyond anything they've put on CD so far. Start by adding a banjo, a second percussionist, and the Stones to My Bloody Valentine or Jesus and Mary Chain or (sometimes) even Einstürzende Neubauten for the high-energy stuff, or drink a bottle of cough syrup and get a King Crimson 45 and play it at 33rpm for the slower stuff, and it *might* get you far enough out that you can see Califone from there if you look around hard enough. And then the next song will be this simple folk ballad that sounds like it could have been sung around a gypsy campfire or on a Louisiana porch.

Joe Adamik (primarily drums) and Jim Becker (primarily fiddle, banjo, guitar, some voice) laid down the foundation for each of the tunes while Ben Massarella (a percussionist who is just as good at knowing which sounds to leave out as which to put in) and Tim Rutili (voice, guitar, minimalist vintage organ, broken toys) drove the songs from whisper to wall-of-sound and back again. Near the end of the set, Tim had some sort of argument with his guitar that resulted in the guitar's banishment to the back corner of the stage, but luckily this resulted in the most intense version of 'Electric Fence' (with Tim now on organ) that I've ever heard, possibly that they've ever played.

The thing I dug the most about the show was watching the way the band hardly ever looked at their instruments... they were looking at each other, following each other's lead, and if Tim decided to turn a song on a dime the rest of the band didn't even miss a beat. Ben got so into it at one point that he didn't seem to notice that his drumsticks were shattering and flinging splinters into the audience. And when the band invited Rebecca and Amy back onstage for 'Fisherman's Wife' and 'Michigan Girls' (two of the mellower songs), Amy's cello and Rebecca's voice made two already awesome songs even better.

I think you could say this was a good show :)