Although the six-week tour of Chicago’s California Wives and My Gold Mask ostensibly began the night before in Detroit, Friday night’s show at The Hideout served as their hometown send-off. Beginning with the primarily instrumental number, “Photo Lights,” the guitar-driven quartet sashayed through a majority of the songs from their debut full-length, Art History (Vagrant Records), but also played a fair number of new compositions.
Led on most songs by the breathy tenor and energetic (and sweaty) stage presence of former pre-med student Jayson Kramer, California Wives are fleshed out by the pugnacious bass of Dan Zima, driving drums of Joe O’Connor, lead guitar atmospherics of Graham Masell and phantom keyboard parts prerecorded, presumably by Kramer. All except O’Connor provided occasional backing vocals, and regardless of his possible vocal skill, he was clearly too busy being a monster pummeling the drums to bother with voicing harmonies.
Highlights of their set included the strong single “Blood Red Youth,” driving guitar riffs on “Purple,” the 80’s-infused odes to “Tokyo” and “Los Angeles” and the mellow pop with vocal interplay on “The Fisher King.”
California Wives skipped ahead on their set list at one point to let Zima sing the lead vocal on “Better Home,” after announcing that this would be his last show with the band. But as he introduced the song, the bassist promised that the new bassist is “much better looking” than he is. Despite that, and overcoming balance, volume and feedback issues (all of which arose occasionally throughout their set), he did a credible job and underscored that his presence will be missed, cosmetic issues notwithstanding.
After a rollicking conclusion to their main set, which featured each member providing a dynamite solo and leaving their instruments behind on the stage, they returned for an encore, performing the electronic synth-heavy single “Twenty Three,” which provided a lovely coda for the evening.
California Wives are really swapping the purest of pop songs, but they’re almost a different band live– the energy the foursome applied to these compositions belied the smooth and soft sounds they’ve recorded thus far. Here’s hoping the next full-length will be just as good as their debut but better capture some of that live energy.
While they’ll be playing in the opening slot for most of the California Wives tour, it would be folly for latecomers to miss the other Chicago band on this bill, My Gold Mask. Led by the dynamic Siouxsie-like presence of lead singer and percussionist Gretta Rochelle (sporting light purple hair in ponytails tonight) and guitarist Jack Armondo, the duo has now expanded into a trio by adding James Andrew on electronic drums and keyboard samples. This addition allows Rochelle to focus on channeling her gothic inner soul into her soaring and scatting alto vocals.
Having said that, highlights of their opening set came when she and Andrew traded and shared pummeling drum parts, and also when Rochelle removed her mic from the stand and moved about the stage freely, caterwauling as she walked and writhed about like a witch possessed. Stand-out moments of their set were provided by the early track “Bitches” and from their most recent outing, the extraordinary Leave Me Midnight, “Burn Like The Sun,” “In Our Babylon” and “Some Secrets.” My Gold Mask should be considered an “opening band” in terms of running order only, and they are not to be missed.
While the textures and inspirations of the two groups seem at first to be wildly divergent, both My Gold Mask and California Wives combine electronic elements and a guitar backing, and while the former’s perspective might be darker, both acts are at their hearts pop groups with solid melodies and unique lyrical perspectives.