Chicago indie rock experimentalists Califone have a sweeping cinematic sound that utilizes a broad sonic and stylistic pallette that stretches from raw, rural country to dense urban cacophony.
Which makes them an ideal band to lend their live musical performance to a film. What sets “All My Friends Are Funeral Singers” apart from the pack of musicians who have conjured up live soundtracks to films is that Califone singer-guitarist-bandleader Tim Rutili wrote and directed the feature-length film.
In other words, Califone’s music was custom-made for the movie. Or is it the other way around?
Whichever, it’s a hand-in-glove perfect fit.
Under the stars in MASS MoCA’s Courtyard C on a magnificent summer Saturday night, the evening opened with the film projected on a large outdoor screen, as the four members of Califone – percussionist Ben Massarella, drummer Joe Adamik and banjo-fiddle-guitarist Jim Becker, in addition to Rutili – sat on the stage beneath the he screen, buttressing the film’s moody soundtrack with atmospheric instrumentals and a couple of vocal selections.
The film stars Angela Bettis as Zel, a fortune teller who lives in a big, rambling house on the edge of the woods. Sharing the house with her are a dozen benevolent ghosts – all bedecked in vintage white clothing – who she considers family. Zel is the only one who can see the ghosts, but other than that it’s unclear whether she possesses any psychic powers since the ghosts do all of the fortune telling and psychic healing. The Califone bandmembers, as well as an array of other Chicago musicians and comedians, portray the ghosts – who are warm and friendly, as well as creepy and funny.
One night a mysterious light appears in the woods that beckons the ghosts to the Great Beyond, and Zel must discover how to help them – and whether to let them go.
Following the film, Califone took a short intermission and then returned to play an hour-long concert of songs culled primarily from their 2009 album, which is also titled “All My Friends Are Funeral Singers.” Only a small crowd of fans remained for the concert, and Rutili joked, “OK, we can pretend we’re in a club.”
They kicked off with “Fisherman’s Wife,” as Becker’s fiddle and Massarella’s steel drum wove together intoxicating counter-melodies. With a casual, relaxed demeanor, the band blended slide guitar and banjo on the beautiful “The Orchids,” and countered with the clattering “Giving Away the Bride,” in which Rutili sang through a megaphone-like filter.
The ominous but crowd-pleasing “Polish Girls” was a highlight, as was the swirling psychedelic blues of “Bunuel.” They played it relatively straight with the Bowie-esque rocker “Electric Fence,” and wrapped up the night with a sprawling, 20-minute encore of “Our Kitten Sees Ghosts,” a delicious slice of back-to-basics, Velvet Underground-inspired rock minimalism.
CALIFONE SET LIST
Million Dollar Funeral
Giving Away the Bride
(Q&A with the crowd)
Our Kitten Sees Ghosts