Friday, October 12, 2007

Urban Desert Orchids

Hey, guess what? This is, according to my Blogger dashboard, my 300th post! Good gravy! And it's only taken me, what, 3-4 years to do it. It's quality not quantity, kids, yes indeedey. At least that's what I keep telling myself.

This summer I had the privilege of attending a long sweaty day of the annual Pitchfork Festival here in Chicago. Most of the day was filled with the type of bands you'd expect from Pitchfork, all style and no substance, disposable, with plenty of horned rimmed glasses, clever t-shirts, and old man clothes adorning the trend setters. But we were willing to risk sunburn and feelings of hipster inadequacy for three sets: Yoko Ono (oh yes!!!!), Cat Power, and today's cover stars Califone.

Naturally Califone was shuffled to the front end of the day, playing in the harshest sunshine and plagued by sound troubles from a techie who clearly couldn't handle 8-12 different musicians onstage at once playing everything from saws and accordions to trumpets and maracas. Califone is not a band that should be playing in the early afternoon damnation of a torpid summer day in the humid Midwest. Better would have been at the crack of dawn, with the sun slowly peaking up lazily through dew-dropped mist. Best, stick 'em in a desert canyon at twilight, the baked and scorched clay giving way to shadows where the snakes crawl at night, and trickster coyote has got a tale to tell.

The odd thing about my above insistence on where Califone should properly be heard live, is that they are very much a city band. A Chicago band. Born from the ashes of Red Red Meat, Califone was primarily the brainchild of Tim Rutili, an amalgam of found sounds, studio effects, blues mumbling, country shuffle, and cactus atmosphere, with lyrics fading in and out obscure and distant. Over the years, Rutili has added his cohorts from Red Red Meat to the lineup (Brian Deck, Tim Hurley, and Ben Massarella), and filtered in a plethora of like-minded musicians to create the sonic template that is current Califone.

So why should you, a regular visitor to the Mountain looking for a little trash, Country, Blues, or greasy R&B be interested in Califone? Well, first off, they're one of my favorite bands, and have I ever steered you wrong? And they're a Country band, really, the type of Country that could only be forged on the cracked urban pavement of the Midwest Gotham, bundled and bundling warmly through a flurried bone-chilling snow. It's like listening to a static transmission AM barn dance produced by aliens, steel guitar battling with analogue tapes 'n' filters, the saddest voice and the throbbingest rhythm.

"The Orchids" is actually a cover of a Psychic TV song, but Califone makes it uniquely theirs.

Califone: The Orchids (mp3)

Califone: Bottles and Bones (Shades and Sympathy) (mp3)

Califone: Michigan Girls (mp3)


Beth said...

Congratulations on your landmark 300th post! I was just looking back through the Lonesome archives to about 3 years ago when we, SongsIllinois and your good self were trading info on Lonesome Bob and Alison Moorer - seems like only yesterday to me. (I think Lonesome Bob is ripe for a post, too).
Really great to have you back. Really.

Paul said...

I really like the Califone. Never heard it before. Thanks. I'll have to get the album. Your sites are great.

Casey said...

300 posts! That's great.
I visit your blog regularly...and it always surprises. Good stuff!