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Califone / The Sea and Cake
March 6, 2003
Sokol Underground


So 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.

Califone 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.

Watching 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.

The 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.

The 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.

Both 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 for.

I still haven't found that Califone CD -- it's around here somewhere.

back torevhead.gif (1924 bytes)   Posted Feb. 28, 2003. Copyright 2003 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.







Watching Califone play was like watching a mechanic intently working on your car.