Funeral Singers

This post was meant to be a few weeks ago, after I had the special pleasure of seeing Califone play a house concert in Allston. Last Friday, I finally turned in the article which had been keeping me from blogging, so now I’m playing catch up.

At the house concert, Califone was just Tim Rutili, his keyboard, guitars, effects pedals, iPhone and glasses—a solo show, without the usual supporting band members.

I first heard Califone in 2003, when I saw them open for Wilco at the State Theatre in Portland, Maine. I was there to see Wilco, but I loved, loved, loved the Califone set. I bought Roomsound at the merch table after the show and have followed the band’s work ever since.

After a failed attempt to see them play again in 2009 (I was doored off of my bike on my way to the show and was too banged up to continue there), I finally saw another Califone show at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts this past September, when they were touring to support the release of their latest album, Stitches. And then I saw the intimate living room show, last month.

One of the great things about seeing Califone live, both last September with the full band and in April in the solo format, was the words.

A lot times it’s easier to pick out lyrics from studio recordings than it is to hear them during live performances. But on Califone records Rutili’s voice is low in the mix and I find it hard to follow the abstract and dense poetry of his songs.

But in the live shows, the lyrics were out front. On the records, the lyrics are like beautiful, under the breath secrets. Live, they were emphatic incantations. Songs I’d known and loved differently for years bowled me over with emotional content I hadn’t heard.

The song that affected me most was this one, Funeral Singers.” The video is from the living room show in Brooklyn, the next night after the one I saw in Allston. I hope some of what was in the room comes through.

A little narcotic warm on me
What will I do without the weight of you?

Funeral singers wail
Charity fails whose child are you now

The lighthouse keeper grazed the lip
Spread like a fog
Stood in the weather and prayed for a push
But doesn’t take the jump again tonight

The book is aching for the tree
Return return return to me
All my friends, all my friends
All my friends are weeds and rain

All my friends are half-gone birds
Are magnets, all my friends are words
All my friends are funeral singers
Funeral singers, funeral singers wailing

A spark is aching for the light
Return return return tonight
All my friends, all my friends
All my friends are keeping time

All my friends have just quit trying
All my friends are funeral singers
Funeral singers, funeral singers wailing

May 13, 2014