Califone/The Judy Green/Sleeping in the Aviary; August 16, 2008; High Noon Saloon
I’m always somewhat surprised at the love that pours out in the direction of Califone. I’ve seen them several times and my reaction usually falls somewhere between amazed and sleepy. I usually end up in the audience as much because I like the band as because they are staying at my house. Who would have guessed that Jim Becker’s intense guitar/violin/vocal stage presence would translate into a sort of ping pong Zen later in the evening. Tonight they were without percussionist Ben Massarella who has been out on the road, and all over the world, with Iron & Wine as part of the Chicago-centric band he assembled for this tour. Luckily they had friends in the opening band the Judy Green who were more than happy to fill in the spaces left by his absence.
Gillian Lisee and Reid Coker from JG have a chemistry between them that moves easily from their own music to that of Califone’s. With Gill on percussion and Reid on keyboards, I almost didn’t miss Ben. Almost. With the pair of them sitting in with the band, it seemed as though they were more likely to drift into jam band land than usual, and well, that’s not particularly anywhere I want to go. Sadly, the Jaeger Bomb I downed before the start of their set only served to make me jittery and impatient rather than wide awake. Most of the crowd seemed completely entranced by the show, but I felt more pulled along behind them than an actual part of it. I guess it isn’t surprising that I felt the same way through most of the Judy Green during their middle set, even when Joe Adamik and Jim Becker from Califone joined them. All of it was quite lovely, I just never connected with it.
Too bad Sleeping in the Aviary wasn’t last instead of first, as their energy and obvious joy were quite contagious. It had been far too long since I had seen them and I had no idea how much I missed them until tonight. They are gearing up for a CD release show at the Frequency in October, so most of the songs were new to me. A few well-chosen songs came from their uneven but overall well-worth-owning debut What, This Old Thing, but all of it was solid and ridiculously catchy accented by a new-to-me fourth member on accordion. A little accordion goes a long way, but Celeste’s talents were well utilized. And when she pulled out the saw I couldn’t have been happier. Even though I could barely hear its haunting buzz I was still delighted to see the seldom used instrument. This was the second night in a row that I was ridiculously entertained by the core threesome. I only wish they had more spin-off bands.