There wasn’t a wasted note on either of these records, and each forwarded an important zeitgeist in indie rock — namely, the psychedelic (the Bonnaroo-ready, as it were). All this, and it’s still hard to pin down any emergents which have truly stood under their influence. Maybe we’re just still waiting for such things. Some have tried and faltered, like a certain low-elevation bluegrass decree from Savannah, Georgia (a glaring geographical faux-pas), but actually the main deterrent from said emulation is as much cultural as it is artistic. America has congealed in the last 10 years into an ultimate fighting-watching, Rock Star-downing gyroscope of aggressive ambition, “indie” has been berated by sources like Taylor Swift, and also, rock music essentially died by way of the year 2010, as I documented. HEALTH, Abe Vigoda, Liars, Midlake and Shearwater, to name a few, have all shifted into electronica, at least in large part. Somehow the very ideal of guitar-aided contemplation lost its vehicle, excepting some detritus floating around at the local level in some cases.
There’s a phenomenological conundrum functioning anytime you attempt to make sense of the time and place of music like this — and that is that, although these records, and I’ll even throw Deck’s The Shepherd’s Dog in here, exist at a point on the continuum, they also transcend time, seeming to gather up elements ancient and buried, and take on a certain multidimensional, almost futuristic shape. But generally, the war time was a fruitful period in American music, in this case incidentally independent, Vietnam and Desert Storm being the same case. So apropos of what I was saying earlier, the war has rematerialized at home, and the music has needed to reflect that — not mourn for something distant and ethereal.
Yet, we still have Bonnaroo. We still have Bonnaroo. And if you want the very definition of identity crisis, just look at this gaudy procession of sherbet-colored hippiedom actually housing indie acts which are dark and subtle, like Band of Horses, and not just jam wankery. The reason I say Annuals were perfect for Bonnaroo is that they were — for Bonnaroo 2007, that is, and indeed they played there (hopefully in the dark, on a humid, sultry night with swamp smells emanating from stage left, you know all that ballyhoo)… a daytime show would not do them justice. And only this type of germane, organic beauty could truly send our troops home the right way, and give them something good so they don’t go and kill people on their weekends off. Don’t look to radio for that.
Of course, there is theoretically a camp which ascribes to the Bonnaroo audience any taste, in which case the concertgoers there would watch a band like the Horses, or Califone for that matter, without whipping out their phones or commencing yelling. A fish out of water breathes the hardest? Califone have never played the southern soiree — indeed their live show is better suited to the indoors, but Isaac Brock of Modest Mouse names them as a primary influence, even joining Tim Rutilli for Ugly Casanova, and I doubt his sentiment is generally anomalous among heady festival performers. One member of Wilco named All My Friends Are Funeral Singers among his five favorite albums of 2009 (this is actually Califone’s worst album). So even if a Califone Bonnaroo set were to go off with less than stellar energy, you’d at very least have some high-profile spectators calling for some audience temperance.
Similarly on most recent album Stitches, from 2013, the band is at its most effective with its most reflective and tranquil material, “Magdalene” echoing Roots and Crowns’ “Spider’s House,” but when I played 2006’s masterpiece at a family reunion, my cousin regained consciousness solely during the hypnotic tribal drums of “Black Metal Valentine.” Jam concerts sometimes have this motif as a structural bulwark, the discouragement or cessation of consciousness as we know it close to the end — like the space and noise segments in Dead shows, or how Medeski, Martin and Wood outings take forever to really BUILD energy, before finally doing so authoritatively. No true fan of the band would probably name “Valentine” as their favorite song — likely favoring the delicate guitar riff of “Sunday Noises” or the shapely cover of Psychic TV’s “The Orchids,” but it is the most accessible to the casual, unseasoned music fan, and for this reason, obviously the most Bonnaroo-ready, garnering perhaps of some big-name guest appearances for a drum circle. Such things are a bit harder to coordinate for eerie arhythmic drone sessions like closeur “If You Would.” But I think anyone who’s truly named Califone as an inspiration, a comfort or a confidante will tell you, it’s these excursions of hopeless placidity which magnify even the minutest chord change or timbre, which define them in solitary album-listening forums.