Sunday, March 20, 2011

holiday surprise - an Elephant 6 Orchestra Reunion!

Throughout the 90's there was a collective of musicians all creating music in a number of different bands that fell under the self proclaimed title of "Elephant 6". This became a genre of music inspired by the 60's, ranging all across the spectrum of psychedelic. Musicians from each band played and filled in on each other's records so it was quite an easy genre to get into because one band blended into the next. Some of the bands under this title are/were The Apples in Stereo, Olivia Tremor Control, Neutral Milk Hotel, The Essex Green, Dressy Bessy, Of Montreal... I could go on, but there are probably 20 different off-shoots from there. My sister Katie and I were just at the right age to get into these bands because we were in our 20's and had enough disposable income to buy hoards of CD's and make it out to see all these bands when they came to town. Us and 20 others went to these shows. At the time, this genre wasn't all that popular but we loved it.

Although these bands still release music, they aren't quite the barrage of music they once were. It was almost impossible to keep up with the new emerging E6 bands, but Katie was in university with a radio show at a time when Olivia Tremor Control broke up and formed The Sunshine Fix and The Circulatory System. She was also really into The Gerbils, Elf Power, Music Tapes, Late B.P. Helium - all of which members are currently touring as the Holiday Surprise and came to Buffalo last night. This particular incarnation of E6 was a great handful of musicians because, if you are familiar with E6, there are a lot of sounds in their music that you can't quite grasp how it was created. Seeing them live last night filled in all those mysterious gaps in my mind from years of listening to these records and wondering how exactly this music was created. There were 4 guitars, 1 bass, 2 sets of drums, 1 Moog, 2 trumpets, 1 tuba, 1 banjo, 1 violin, 1 clarinet and Julian on saw. Yes, I don't know what it's called when a musician uses the bow of a violin on a bent saw to produce a warbly sound effect (kinda like Halloween spooky records), but it was amazing to see live. Especially since Julian pretty much stole the show not only with his odd musicianship and passionate squeal of a voice, but also with his fairytale stories of his Romanian ancestors who were circus performers. Judging by his presence last night I might actually believe that tale was true. 
The set consisted of a collection of the aforementioned bands songs. Olivia Tremor Control is one of my favourite bands of all time and I never had a chance to see them live when they were together, so since most of the members reunited for this tour I could not believe I got to see "Opera House" live. Ah, sooo good. The set also included 3 covers including The Minutemen and The Tall Dwarfs. The grand finale, which really was the E6 version of The Last Waltz's 'Forever Young', was a cover of Sun Ra's 'Enlightenment'. The group took their most portable instruments into the crowd and played. Yep, they stopped right in front of me. I felt like I was jammin' right with the band. It was so fun and I really hope that tours like Holiday Surprise continue in different incarnations down the road.

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