Tonight, turning my car into a parking space at the venue, I noted a trio of teenage boys who appeared to be getting high in the parking lot. I smiled knowingly, yet completely unaware of how they would become a part of the performance I was about to watch.
The One AM Radio sublimely slid us into a warm blanket of music, and Eric Johnson, minus the Fruit Bats, sparked the auditorium with folksy energy; both opening acts paving the way for Califone.
Califone's stage setup looked like a studio midway through the recording process: instruments piled around each player, pedals of all kinds, percussion stacked in dark corners and cords looping around the perimeter. The stage was only a testament to the multi-instrumental Tim Rutili, Jim Becker, Joe Adamik and Ben Massarella, who juggled percussion, drums, tambourines, keyboard, guitars, fiddle and an assortment of other instruments.
With projected images of distorted figures, hazy dots of colors or washed out photographs playing behind them, they launched into a few songs from 2001's Room Sound before transitioning into tracks from their current album, Roots & Crowns .
Many of their songs faded easily into a drawn out ambience, with punctuations of pithy percussion. The audience sat in rapt reverence for songs like “The Orchids” and “Fisherman's Wife.”
During a technical difficulty, the boys I saw previously kicking back in the parking lot drew Rutili into conversational nonsense, after which Rutili, who played along good-naturedly, joked: “I feel like we had a moment.”
Rutili exchanged with the eager crowd in a laid back way, betraying his decade plus on stage. But it wasn't long before the boys were choking the music with their raucous whooping mid-song and obnoxious clamoring for attention from Rutili.The last song of Califone's planned set was energetic and chaotic, and when they returned to the stage for the encore, they treated us to “Stepdaughter” and “Rose Petal Ear.” Califone's performance was easy-going yet sonically impressive, pulling elements from around the world into a kicky blend of great American music.