It was discovered in February of 2007 that several articles written by arts writer Devika Daga did not meet the newspaper’s standards of ethical journalism. Parts of these stories had been plagiarized from other news sources. The article below appears to contain plagiarism, and The Michigan Daily no longer stands by its content.

Morgan Morel
Califone left the Michigan Union on Friday with several audience members writhing. (FOREST CASEY/Daily)

The hard-clunking banjo spins its dark chords like they’re caught in an angry astral torrent. As the speakers crackle with distortion, a curly haired kid is shaking tent-revival style, whipping his limbs franticly through the air.

He’s clearly on drugs, but that doesn’t prevent his energy from infecting the crowd.

It’s early in the set, and Califone has already whipped the room into an urbanized, alt-Americana fury, turning the crisp edge of country to reckless ends. It’s a dark energy, rife with crude stories of heartbreak and horror – the real essence of country music.

It has the feel of whiskey-soaked nights, the dry caress of dust and dementia. Whether or not this country-fried homage – modernized by keyboards, distortion and sequenced beats – is reverent to the genre’s beer-swirling originals is inconsequential.

Califone rambles with the seedy swagger of real beer-bellied Western warriors. The Chicago band’s forerunner, Red Red Meat, was a less experimental group, but Modest Mouse’s Isaac Brock still called RRM his favorite indie act.

In the small U-Club room, the band born of RRM displayed similar enthusiasm, but more often than not the songs were tightly reined. Clearly, those boys recognize that there’s a difference between riding a slow horse and holding the rope on a champion sprinter.

“Red Red Meat was enjoyable, but I just got tired of playing really loud music,” Rutili explained in a phone interview before the concert. “Califone is more instinctual and (grows from) trial and error. Our sound doesn’t have to work on paper or make sense. As long as it feels right, we go with it.”

A seamless combination of old-school folk and new age electronica, Califone’s latest record Roots and Crowns speaks to their maturation both as a band and as individuals.

“(The album is) about uniting where you come from with what you strive to be or what you reinvent yourself to become. At the bottom of these songs are the memories and images you sift through in the process,” Rutili said.

Though the band’s modern reconstruction of “roots” music had its prototype in the RRM albums, with Roots and Crowns Califone has finally found a retroactive statement of purpose. Rutili still sings in images, but the band’s latest music does more than uphold the point — it encompasses and personifies it.

The band’s new penchant for straightforward melody didn’t keep it from trotting out its earlier hits on Friday. They waffled back and forth throughout the set between the old and new, caressing melody before destroying it in long, freeform jam sessions. These later bits built distortion on the clanking of drummer Ben Massarella’s cowbell, and the spiraling sounds of banjo and keyboards mashed into one another.

Rutili, meanwhile, pounded a second mic (this one a tiny tape-recorder) against his leg before placing it next to the real one to double his vocal. As he wrung out his words, the mini-mic added a delightfully grainy edge.

By the end of the set, that wildly dancing crowd member was burnt out beyond repair. Glasses drooping and beads of sweat plastered across his forehead, the energy fried his bones and shook the blood from his veins. He was visibly sick with the musical shakes – an appropriate end to fantastic show.

At the U-Club

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