If you see colors when you hear music (a phenomenon scientists call synaesthesia) then Calla probably looks jet black. There’s an enveloping darkness in their reverb-drenched sound, a stylish moroseness that extends all the way through—from the band’s broken-love scenarios to its desolate wails of feedback, and its pulsing, insinuating bass-and-drum driven rhythms. If a Calla song is number one on your iPod’s heavily-played list at the moment, your romantic life is probably in a certain amount of disarray. Or you’re a bass player. Or both.
The band takes the stage, dressed in downtown black (naturally) to a background feed of bowed guitar sounds. The show starts with the surge of “It Dawned on Me”, the lead-off track from Collisions, which builds suddenly out of jangling guitar notes in anthemic, driving glory.
Aurelio Valle stands at the front, black hair flopping over his forehead as he leans sideways into the mic stand to whisper the song’s insinuating opening lines, turning back towards the amps as he builds a wall of feedbacked tones at each vocal break. Peter Gannon is off to the side coaxing the soft rumble of low-end out of his instrument. He’s sliding from note to note, eschewing the pick and playing way up on the next for a fat, thundery sound that’s never as apparent on record as it is live.
Calla songs are an interesting mix of propulsion and drift, thanks in good part to drummer Wayne Magruder, who puts the motor under the long-toned melodies with complex rhythmic patterns. Once the single has been put away, Magruder knocks out the slow count for “Initiate”, and the band enters a hazy, careening drone. The song has a dark, world-weary shimmer to it—Echo and the Bunnyman on a severe downer—with Valle’s voice frayed, desperate, and wonderful.
Calla’s set focuses mostly on Collisions, with an extended, wall-of-sound version of “This Better Go as Planned”, a very rock take on “Swagger,” and a gentler, more wistful version of “So Far, So What” among the highlights. The band also slips in a couple of songs from Televise—the maraca-paced, bass-slide embellished “Don’t Hold Your Breath” and the up-all-night melancholic “Strangler”. The older songs seem a bit more sparse, less saturated, and moodier. But the difference isn’t huge and the transitions are fairly smooth.
The set closes as the album closes with the long, two-part “Overshadowed”, which starts as quietly as a Calla song can—just Valle and a few muted guitar notes. The drums build gradually in the corners, with eighth-note crescendos on the snare, but the explosion you’re expecting is held back. It’s hinted at but not realized through the first couple of minutes of the song. Then finally, the drums and bass are let off the leash, growing louder and louder in a long-repeated pattern of eighth notes. Over this, Valle churns out a rainbow array of altered guitar songs, working the pedals and the amps for an ever-changing tone, shifting the angles between guitar and speaker for a spiraling, freewheeling freak-out jam that is triumphant, not desolate. This goes on for a long time, maybe a little too long, but if that’s the way that Calla breaks out of their gloomy corner, so be it. Bring on the distortion.