The California Wives are a Chicago 4 piece band that have recently begun to turn heads in the city of big shoulders. Fusing a polished new-wave pop/rock style with a more contemporary indie electro-rock feel, they have found a sound that is both in sync with the ascending fascination with glam-rock, but distinct and talented enough so that they deserve their own corner. On this night we found them playing at one of Chicago’s more welcoming compact venues, The Empty Bottle, where many rising indie rock bands have cut their teeth.
After a truly entertaining opening set from another local act, Color Radio, the California Wives took to the stage and opened with the song “Purple” off of their sole release titled ‘Affair’. With its pulsating rhythm section and dancing high-hat taps, over which growling guitars and melodic synth lines cavorted, it made for a great new-wave rock opener – as the majority of the crowd began to make their exodus from the bar and towards the sounds of the stage. What became apparent about the California Wives, taking them in for the first time, is that they are quite capable of hitting and sustaining exceptional grooves. They have definitely honed their collective timing, exceptionally well considering the relative youth of band. On this night their music adroitly ebbed and flowed, as they let the energy level fluctuate, without every leaving the proverbial “pocket”.
They played all of their songs from the aforementioned 5 song EP release titled ‘Affair’, but also threw in some new ones. One new track, name unknown, showed that they are capable of creating songs that infuse both a leisurely aspect as well as a slightly psychedelic aspect, which shows promising dexterity. Another new tack, “Sister”, satisfied many in the audience on this Friday night with it’s throbbing bass lines and jumping drums. But what came off best on this evening were the songs off of ‘Affair’ which have been the catalyst for the attention they are starting to receive. “Photolights” is a song that starts off with a walking synth line/melody & soundscape-like guitars, before a steady drum line comes in along with hushed-but-howling reverbed guitars, while the walking synth line stays anchored in the background. The atmosphere built by this song is both hauntingly mesmerizing and pleasantly-hallucinatory, but also wonderfully powerfully dance-enticing, as eventually the order breaks down and the guitars and drums release their pent up energy – yet the walking synth line never really leaves and serves as an anchor throughout the song. Both live, and on the EP, it is the song which reveals to the listener the California Wives considerable musical potential.
Another highlight was the closer, “Blood Red Youth”, which is ironically the opener on their EP. It contains a swaggering beat and melody, which they move in and out of as the song progresses and they move from verse to chorus to verse. On this night they did an excellent job of letting the momentum and energy in the song slowly build, allowing for people’s feet to notice it more than their minds at first, and before you knew it you were in a rock n roll crescendo which hit a lot harder live than on the recording.
On this evening, or maybe just at this venue one can’t be sure, it seemed that they were more deftly in control over their sound than they were over their vocals. At times it would have been prudent for the lead singer to be more prevalent and decidedly in the foreground, as he is in their recorded material. Their overall sound is bettered by their vocal intonations, and lyric-to-music interaction, and to be able to hear that live more-so would have to their advantage. But overall this was a more minor point and did not in any way detract from anyone’s enjoyment on this evening. In conclusion, this band positively impressed with the playing of their already recorded material, and showed off some new material which belies that ‘Affair’ is no fluke. If you enjoy neo-new-wave, or just good indie rock of any kind, this is definitely a band worth you getting acquainted with right now.
By Sean Brna