Califone / The Sea and Cake
March 6, 2003
I get home from the show last night and fumble through my stack
of promos, looking for that Califone CD that I got a few weeks ago.
I don't remember the band sounding like what I heard on stage at
the Sokol. I think I would have remembered the trippy arrangements,
the amazing songs, hell, the electric banjo. The CD didn't hold
a candle to what these guys do live.
is a 6-piece outfit, with two drummers (one's actually more of a
percussionist), bass player, a guy who switches between a variety
of stringed instruments (including a well-amped banjo) and the lead
singer, who spent the evening behind a keyboard. The music was heady
stuff, with songs that started as regular rock stock and evolved
into woozy jams that bordered on psychedelic. One person mentioned
Pink Floyd. A better comparison would have been Velvet Underground,
Yo La Tengo or more-ambient Sonic Youth stuff.
Califone play was like watching a mechanic intently working on your
car. Everyone was seated except the bass player, all with their
heads down, slouched over their instruments, focused on the task
at hand like surgeons over an open heart. Most songs trailed off
into six- or seven-minute ambient jams centered around the rhythm
section, with the guitarist and keyboardist (who also doubled on
guitar) adding syncopated noise shimmers to the wall of sound --
it felt like really good drug music.
Sea and Cake, the headliners, were less impressive. I guess you
have to be a big Sea and Cake fan to get into it (the ones I talked
to were, one saying he didn't even notice the Califone set because
he was so jazzed about actually getting a chance to see Sea and
Cake). Don't get me wrong, I dug what they were doing. Their set
started off timid, and slowly built into a juggernaut. One fan at
the show described them as masters of exuberance and restraint,
which pretty much hits it square on the head.
visual highlight was watching drummer John McEntire stare straight
ahead throughout the entire set, barely moving his head, his eyes
fixed on some distant point as if trying to light something on fire
with his psychokiller gaze. The band ended the show with a two-song
encore that, at times, reminded me of tepid New Order.
bands are huge in Chicago, but are barely known 'round these parts.
I halfway expected this show to be a let-down from a crowd standpoint
and was pleasantly surprised (along with the promoters) at the 220
turnout. Either a lot of people traveled from surrounding areas
(the band doesn't make it down to Lawrence and Iowa City until later
this month) or Omaha is a much more hip town than we give it credit
still haven't found that Califone CD -- it's around here somewhere.
Posted Feb. 28, 2003. Copyright © 2003 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.