After a hassle with misappropriated tickets and a trip back to the car to return what is apparently my “professional rig” camera, we got into 4th and B, got drinks, and found seats. A friend’s description of the venue pretty much proved true: outside, it looks like a skyscraper; when you first walk inside, it looks like someone’s dilapidated barn; when you get into the actual venue, it looks like a pretty decent place.
Califone‘s audience was refreshingly enthusiastic, but the show didn’t start immediately because multi-instrumentalist Jim Becker couldn’t get sound out of his mic. Thus began a pretty hilarious “Vaudeville”-esque routine (as lead singer Tim Rutili put it), where Becker mouthed words that nobody could hear, and Rutili spoke for him through his mic. They started anyway, with “Trout Silk” from Roomsound, which morphed into a lengthy experimental jam.
Califone’s performance as a whole was one of their best that I’ve seen, with Ben Massarella joining on percussionâ€”his first of two shifts for the night, since he’s also a full-time member of Iron & Wine. Other songs played by Califone included “Michigan Girls,” “The Orchids,” “Your Golden Ass,” and “The Eye You Lost in the Crusades.” These guys are truly some of the best, and the audience (with a few new fans, I’m sure) showed their appreciation.
If San Diegans appreciated Califone, they practically soiled themselves over Sam Beam and his seven-person outfit (instruments played included keyboard, grand piano, bass, upright electric bass, drums, percussion, pedal steel, violin, and xylophone). Beam and his sister Sarah frequently duetted on vocals, and they sounded great; all worries about the stage adaptation of the The Shepherd’s Dog were put to rest.
The large band made for a lovely, full sound, and a slight reworking of a few of his older songs (to match Beam’s new electronicky-ness) made it impossible for Beam and his band to merely rattle-off the old standards. Everyone played happily and harmoniously throughout the evening, despite repeated requests from a Southern military guy up front: “‘Jezebel!’ Sir, won’t you please play ‘Jezebel?'”
During the encore break, I asked my lady friend why nobody from the band just closed the book on “Jezebel” and said “Sorry, not tonight,” but my question was answered when the bearded Beam walked out, alone, and played an acoustic version of the song that rivaled Jeff Tweedy’s best solo-acoustic work.
“Damn,” was really all I could think as Beam strummed his sweet guitar like he hadn’t played the song in a while. His acknowledgment of the self-absorbed fan showed that Beam is so genuine that he’ll not only play the requested song, but he’ll also treat the audience to something cathartic. Even after years of indie stardom, Beam still seems a little surprised and humbled that people like him so much.