Show review: Califone with William Tyler

The folk artists impressed at Saturday’s show.

By William Schmitt | Jan. 25, 2014

Tags: Downtown Columbia Music Reviews

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Tim Rutili and Califone brought guitarist William Tyler into Columbia for one of the most unassumingly excellent shows I’ve experienced.

Both are folk acts that dabbled in the babbling joy of distorted noise, Tyler most notably so. The second half of his opening set included fiddling with a portable radio, a slide piece and a music box near the pickups of his guitar.

“This is a ghost story in a psychedelic cathedral that hasn’t been built yet,” Tyler said of his third song of the evening, “Tears and Saints.”

He immediately burst into sheepish giggling, aware of the oddness of this idiosyncratic description.

Indeed, it was Tyler who put the word “unassuming” into my head. He skillfully brought many gorgeous melodies from various guitars while gazing at his fretboard or the tips of his boots.

Tyler was curiously self-conscious given the raucous crowd response, or perhaps he is just truly humble. The Nashvillian seemed to be submerged in a murky Tennessee crick while playing, only to resurface and be shocked to discover 30 boisterous and exuberant humans.

Tyler proved to be an intriguing foil to the easy camaraderie of Califone. The Chicago group would segued from one jam to the next freely and willfully. The duo of drummers brought an ear-ringing level of percussion to the air but Rutili and sideman Wil Hendricks countered with plaintive and silky vocals.

An especially notable song from the set was “Moses,” which was introduced with hilarious banter among Rutili, his bandmates and audience members.

“Moses parted the Red Sea,” Rutili quietly but confidently said to nobody in particular, “He wears shorts in cold weather. He’s self-conscious about his toes.”

From there, he mediated a discussion of the Brony phenomenon, the likes of which I’m not qualified to comment on. Rutili mercifully brought the music back, crooning, “There’s nothing to be afraid of. Just men expressing themselves.”

He would go on to tell an anecdote of a time where he, then an anxious altar boy, was graced by an unexpected erection in church, and dedicated the song to “boners, sweet boners.”

What amazed me about the nature of the songs and the oddball comedy was how pleasantly the band chatted. They smiled amiably at each other such that they might have been sharing a drink at a bar or enjoying a picnic at the park or playing hacky sack. Indeed, they gave few clues that they were even aware they were on a stage at all. The contrast between Califone and Tyler’s stage presence amazed me.

The two acts got along well together, as Rutili invited Tyler to join the band for two more songs. Tyler’s frenetic fretting at first seemed out of place amid the practiced Chicago groovers, but Rutili, a father figure of sorts perhaps, seemed to calm him down as they faced each other and bounced notes from one corner of the venue to the other. When both drummers attacked their toms at the same time, Mojo’s was frighteningly loud.

Before the encore, a visibly intoxicated man stumbled on the front of the stage and placed a small sheaf of paper on top of Rutili’s keyboard without any measure of explanation. That presence was not acknowledged by the band, although Rutili graciously accepted a vodka and Red Bull from a cheerfully inebriated man in a leather jacket.

All in all, I had a very pleasant time and savored the opportunity to listen to more material by both Califone and William Tyler. Califone provided blissful hooks over a screeching and booming backdrop, while Tyler’s delightful strumming and audio trickery simultaneously smacked of Duane Allman and the String Cheese Incident.

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