Tim Rutili of Califone
Califone, like an automobile in frigid January temperatures, warmed up gradually after taking the stage at the Basement on Wednesday, frontman Tim Rutili and his three bandmates laying down gauzy layers of atmospheric feedback that spread slowly through the venue like a thick fog.
For more than 90 minute the long-running group, which has deep Chicago roots even though Rutili has called Los Angeles home in more recent years, immersed itself in an array of knotty folk tunes caked in bark-like layers of noise. At times, taking in the concert felt akin to being trapped alone inside a rickety old house on a particularly windy night, surrounded by mysterious creaks, groans and thumps.
“All My Friends Are Funeral Singers,” for one, opened amidst crackling synths that mimicked a fleet of chirping crickets, while Rutili dropped Old Testament allusions on “Bells Break Arms” atop a corroded backdrop that hit like a biblical plague of locusts.
Many of the songs bore a strong percussive element, with the band’s dual drummers driving the music on “The Orchids,” colored here with malfunctioning synths that sparked, melted and dripped across the venue floor, and “Electric Fence,” a thundering cut that began with a drum assault that echoed an ancient call to warfare. On these heavier tunes, Rutili didn’t strum his guitar so much as he attacked it, jabbing his hand at the strings to create jagged outbursts of scraping metallic noise.
In turn, those moments where the fog lifted sounded impossibly beautiful. On “Movie Music Kills a Kiss” the frontman sang of damaged relationships atop an undisturbed spring garden of acoustic strumming and breezy keyboard. The introspective “Moses" opened with Rutili at his most reflective, delving into heady issues like personal faith and the ways existence can corrupt our capacity to connect with one another. “I knew how to love so much better when I was five,” he sang.
“Stitches” started in similar fashion, the band lying in wait until the frontman gave the cue, singing, “Cut the connection.” At that moment the string snapped and the sound became untethered, decaying into an immersive squall of drums and feedback and crackling electronics.
It’s a spark that carried over into the two songs Califone delivered alongside opener William Tyler, an experimental electric-folk guitarist who shares clear musical DNA with Rutili. The first, “A Thin Skin of Bullfight Dust,” doubled as a three-guitar throwdown, the musicians repeatedly charging one another and kicking up billowing dirt clouds of noise. The second stripped things back, Tyler plucking out liquid notes that trickled like an IV drip as Rutili crooned of being overcome by romantic visions. Both suggested the musicians would be wise to pursue future collaboration.