concert reviews

Califone at Iota, Arlington, VA, Sunday 12 November 2006

Despite its smooth Americana-blues sound, Califone is a difficult group to pin down. Time and again during its show Sunday night at Iota, songs that began as straightforward, twangy numbers transformed into more fluid, instrumental jams. While those moments have always existed in the group's music, they have become more striking after leader Tim Rutili's recent move to Los Angeles to pursue soundtrack work.

Califone began its 80-minute set with such an instrumental soundscape while much of the crowd continued to chatter, unaware that the group was performing. But the noise died down as Rutili began to sing "Horoscopic Amputation Honey," an alt-country piece that morphed into a droning instrumental grounded by driving percussion.

Califone's three-piece core was joined onstage by additional musicians: Trumpet and trombone accents spiced up "Pink & Sour"; a second keyboard enhanced Rutili's on "Spider's House"; and local cellist Amy Domingues joined in on "Michigan Girls." Her contributions were particularly stunning on the plaintive "Fisherman's Wife," a highlight of the set with its somber, swooping melodies. Staticky feedback forced the group to stop toward the end of the song, but Califone barely missed a beat, calmly regrouping to play the entire gorgeous number again.

-- Catherine P. Lewis

.: Originally published: The Washington Post, 14 November 2006; Page C02
.: Selected discography: Roots & Crowns (Califone, 2006); Heron King Blues (Califone, 2004); Quicksand/Cradlesnakes (Califone, 2003); Sometimes Good Weather Follows Bad People (Califone, 2002); Roomsound (Califone, 2001 r:2006).