Time to make a new wish list. For years the two names at the top of my wish list for the basement were Chuck Prophet and Califone. Prophet played a terrific solo show last spring, and tonight I finally got to cross off number one. I didn’t know who to expect when the Califone van rolled into the driveway, most of these Califone living room shows had been lead singer/guitarist/genius Tim Rutili solo or joined by a guitarist. In addition to Rutili, inventive guitarist (and Jon Dee Graham Austin neighbor) Craig Ross and Ben Massarella climbed out of the van. I couldn’t have been more delighted to see percussionist Massarella who had been an integral part of the Califone I knew the best, and he was the first to say “We should play here sometime” years ago in the middle of a post show ping pong game. I wasn’t going to forget that. After seeing them for years, the release of All My Friends Are Funeral Singers in 2011 marked the moment when I finally “got” Califone. It’s their most accessible record to date, an addictively powerful listen. My only regret is that they didn’t play more than the title track from it.
Well, that and Rutili’s weird and wildly inappropriate between song banter. I told him he’d ruined several of my favorite songs by telling me what they were about. I didn’t need to know that “The Fisher King’s Wife” was about a war to wean grown men from breast milk, or that another song was about genital mutilation. “But in a loving way,” he protested when I told him I might not be able to listen to that song again. Still, most people seemed charmed by his strange and comfortable openness. And while it was uncomfortable, I’ll admit to also finding it a bit endearing. I’m just glad there weren’t any children in the room. Rutili switched between keyboard and guitar, often seeming to lose himself in the song, his distinctive voice his only anchor. Massarella added subtle percussion, and Ross a poignant guitar, both adding to the spell. They opened, as they had been the last several times I’d seen them, with “Movie Music Kills a Kiss,” an infectious tune from last year’s Stitches, the subdued but still quite enjoyable follow up to Funeral. What followed was a sampling from much of his catalog, a treat for diehard fans in the audience.
The running joke became that everything was a Kickstarter campaign, though it isn’t really a joke if you’ve ever looked at the things people are trying to get paid for on the fund raising website. I’d like to set up a Kickstarter to get Califone back to the basement as soon as possible. I know at least fifty people who would contribute.