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For California Wives, it’s all about the music. When asked about how they reacted to the more theatrical performances of Diamond Rings and Stars (the two bands they’re supporting on their most recent tour), singer Jayson Kramer said that their show is less focused on the image. Stating to be influenced by bands like Wilco and Radiohead and the common, everyday clothing they wear on stage, California Wives had no qualms with presenting a simple set with a strong emphasis on their catchy songwriting.
For their WERS set, California Wives stripped down to the bare essentials. Two acoustic guitars, some shakers, a tambourine, and a synth used to mimic the lower-ends of the bass. As a result, the gorgeous melodies they crafted were at the forefront of everyone’s attention. Eager to show off their newly released debut album, Art History, the quartet opened with “Marianne”. Compared to the more driving and rollicking album version, their acoustic arrangement had a dreamy sound.
Despite being from Chicago, California Wives lived up to their namesake by delivering a set that was very reminiscent of 60s California rock. Their songs are breezy, summertime tunes with a hint of melancholy. Their next song, “Tokyo”, features the couplet: “I’m watching people change, I’m watching people fade away.” Maybe melancholy isn’t the right word, but there is a sense of trepidation in their lyrics.
In his youth, Jayson claims to be enthralled to britpop bands like Oasis and Blur and shoegaze bands like Ride. Those influences shine through and are still very much present in California Wives’ music. Jayson’s voice was calm, cool, and collected and, at times, you could hear the shoegaze coming through in his vocals. His whispered tone recalled bands long past like Slowdive or more modern bands like Wild Nothing (a band California Wives really dig!).
Blood Red Youth, the last song of their set, began with a guitar intro that was very reminiscent of Oasis’ “She’s Electric” before evolving into a much more subdued song. It’s tempting to say that this acoustic version sounded even better than the album version. The flowing guitar lines really benefitted from the added clarity of their clean sounding acoustics and became more of a melodic counterpart to the vocals rather than just rhythmic backing.
As previously mentioned, it’s all about the music for these guys. So, to rearrange their set and make it acoustic friendly was no big challenge. Before their set, they talked about their time supporting Peter Hook. Is there any greater challenge than playing before one of your heroes, especially when said hero is going to perform some absolutely legendary songs (Hook performed all of Joy Division’s famous album Closer)? Well, for California Wives, it was a chance to meet a legend and to find out how nice he actually is. Much like their music, all four of the band members are easy to like. Definitely be on the look out for these guys, they’ll be going places.