The Diamond Family Archive appeared in support as a solo set, offering the typically engaging yet almost brutally slow experimental folk music which has gained them a well-earned good reputation in their native Brighton. Using a clever technique of layering up live loops of guitar, lap steel and percussive noises, the group’s sparse and fragile songs grow and capture something special, but unfortunately due to a late arrival I was unable to catch more than the slightest glimpse and the last ringings of a final note. However, the headline act were good enough to make the night on their own, so it was by no means a tragic affair.
Roots and Crowns, Califone’s latest album, was released on Thrill Jockey at the end of last year to great acclaim, cementing an already strong position in Chicago’s music scene as well as wider experimental and folk circles. The band started off as the project of one man, Tim Rutili, but grew into a band with four steady members (the others being Ben Massarella, Brian Deck and Tim Hurley — the four of them having already performed together as Red Red Meat in the 1990s), however, at the last jaunt zap! bang! attended, immediately post-_Roots and Crowns_, they performed as a two-piece, and here they numbered three (Tim Rutili and present members Joe Adamik and Jim Becker — Massarella being absent), testament to the way that the band appears to develop, being open to change and re-interpretation, new ideas and influence (the band’s debut full-length apparently featured an open-door recording policy leading to additional performances from members of Tortoise and Eleventh Dream Day among others).
From origins in John Fahey guitar patterns and close vocals the song became an experimental structured mess of noise.
The band’s music is a meeting of traditional Appalachian-style country and folk musics with modern experimental urges coming out in various ways — through a blending of other styles like jazz and blues or electronica, noting the influence of synthesised sounds and studio production, electronic layerings and embracing an ad-hoc randomness with collages of sounds and their instruments being approached from different directions. The three-piece band was for the basis of the set two guitars and drums, or guitar, banjo and drums, with lead and backing vocals and generally basing the melodies, harmonies and patterns in traditional, melodic folk styles, however, not many songs stayed this simple for too long.
The opening track’s weaving banjo and guitar lines were driving by a droning heartbeat from the kick drum which kept the steady pace as effects layered up the sound behind the vocals. Behind the drummer sat a laptop which seemed to offer backing noises some appearing to be triggered from drum pads and others through a midi-keyboard, building up the sounds on offer, which alongside the switch into keyboards which Rutili often made from his guitar as songs progressed, meant that it was hard to believe at many points that there was only three men on stage. After close harmonies in the strong, brooding Psychic TV ballad “Orchid”, which was apparently the inspiration for Califone’s latest record, “The Eye You Lost In The Crusades” offered perhaps the best example of how the band can transform traditional folk styles and forms. From origins in John Fahey guitar patterns and close vocals the song became an experimental structured mess of noise, swallowing up the vocals with the additions of keyboards and synthesised noises, metallic drum samples and, perhaps most interestingly, the slightly distorted banjo taken to with an EBow — fascinating and ingenious.
in the live set-up the songs really do fulfill all potential to grow
The band switched between quieter and louder numbers, some with acoustic guitar and violin and one even without drums at all, and others with pounding rythyms and heavier instrumentation. The band took their hand to twisting up their folk roots in each song in some way or another though, but still not just in the most obvious way that others do — by putting electronic clicky beats behind it — but by organically moving, adding synthesisers underneath plucked violin or creating a sea of arranged noises such as in the awesome Roots and Crowns opener “Pink and Sour”. As well as more tracks from the new album like “Spider’s House” some old material was offered like the more simplistic, heartfelt “Don’t Let Me Die Nervous” from the Califone EP (later released on the Sometimes Good Weather Follows Bad People compilation). The set’s encore closed with a song which developed into seemingly-improvised near-ambience, with soft vocals and keyboard lines, stuttering banjo scrapes and dull percussion having to be cut off by the soundman at curfew, the band seeming to be as enthusiatic in creating their music as the crowd were in lapping it up. Califone have imbued a music which remains always fascinating with a new and fresh vigour through an experimental outlook which is intriguing. On record the group are impressive but in the live set-up the songs really do fulfill all potential to grow and come alive in increased and different ways.