The Sea and Cake / Califone Richard's on Richards, Vancouver BC - March 10, 2003

"Hello?," says Tim Rutili, squinting under the stage lights, his opening remark more a question than a greeting. A typically nonchalant West Coast crowd carries on its conversations, but by the time the Rutili-led Califone has finished its opening song, the audience has pushed forward, struck dumb by the Chicago quintet's ornate hymnology. Over the course of its nine-song set, the group's five members organise themselves in seven different instrumental permutations, painstakingly recreating the chilling neo-folk gems from their last record, Sometimes Good Weather Follows Bad People. Percussionist Ben Massarella is particularly delightful, coaxing quirky rhythms out of all manner of junk: a tin can, worn shakers and a beaten-up bongo. Rutili, meanwhile, is captivating, augmenting his "play it safe" vocals with some pedal-enhanced guitar and electric piano magic. Halfway between Hank Williams and Brian Eno, there lies Califone. Fellow Windy City natives the Sea and Cake benefit handsomely from Califone's restrained opening show, free to crank up the volume and the tempo for a roomful of now-attentive indie scenesters. Breathy-voiced Sam Prekop is the ostensible front-man, but drummer John McEntire is the focal point, a slow-burning cauldron of energy that seems ready to explode at any given moment. McEntire's playing is both ferocious and impeccable; thanks to a ring of spotlights at his feet, his shadow dances on the brick wall behind the stage, a ghostly projection of a man possessed. Prekop's having a grand old time, turning down an audience member's request for "Civilise" but otherwise pleasing the faithful with spirited takes on "Midtown," "The Ravine" and "Left Side Clouded." During the first encore, the Chicagoans broke into a cover of David Bowie's "Sound & Vision," and as Prekop's voice intertwines with that of Archer Prewitt, smiles crease the face of every last person in the room. A brilliant night.