The Chicago band Califone’s music has always been cinematic, with lots of atmospheric touches, so it was not all that surprising to learn that Califone leader Tim Rutili was making a movie. On Saturday and Sunday at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, Rutili’s film, All My Friends Are Funeral Singers, screened while the band played along to the soundtrack. Or something like that. You see, Califone has a new album, which is also called All My Friends Are Funeral Singers, but it’s not really a soundtrack. It includes some music that appears in the film, but it also has other songs.
And when Califone played in front of the movie screen this weekend at the MCA, the band was also appearing in the film up on the screen. The film is about a haunted house in Indiana, and the members of Califone play a ghostly house band. The way the film was shown, you could hear some music from from the film, while Califone supplemented that soundtrack with even more music — rattling, jangling percussion and droning guitar, keyboards, violin and banjo. Rutili sang a bit, when the film left space for a couple of actual songs, but most of the time, it was more like Califone was adding emotional accents to the film as it unfolded. The music and images meshed together artfully.
Rutili’s film was pretty impressive in its own right. This is the sort of independent film that probably wouldn’t make it much further than the film-festival circuit, short on plot, heavy on mood, but it’s imaginative and well crafted, with decent acting. Like Califone’s music, the film is spooky and a little rough around the edges. Seeing it with a live supplemental score was a memorable experience.
After the movie and an intermission, Califone came back and played about 40 minutes of music without visual accompaniment, including several of the songs from the new album that don’t actually appear in the film. The band ambled through these songs, taking a couple of long pauses due to a broken string… which led to some humorous stage banter. Rutili remarked that it was an unprofessional set, which Califone can get away in its hometown but perhaps not in other cities. Maybe so, but it made the performance seem all the more intimate.
(Photo from All My Friends Are Funeral Singers by John Adams.)