Show Review: Elephant 6 Holiday Surprise Tour at The New Parish, 3/6/2011

by Gordon Elgart on March 7, 2011

Everything on stage but the kitchen sink

Let’s get this out of the way at the beginning. No, Jeff Mangum did not show up. So if that’s the only reason you might care about a review of this show, you can go on your way. If, on the other hand, you like 3-hour shows full of lively music by talented musicians with great chemistry who write songs of varying degrees of excellence, then you might want to keep reading.

And yes, they did veer of the setlist and play a song from In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. If you could pick one, which one would it be? So was that the one?Before I tell you that, let me talk about the rest of the show. I’ll admit to being an almost complete novice when it comes to Elephant 6. I listened to Elf Power many years ago because I thought that sounded like the name of a prog rock band. I was disappointed that they weren’t, and my taste didn’t run their way oh those long years ago. I told my friend this last night, and she said that when she heard of them, she assumed that they’d be twee, and she was a bit disappointed in the other direction. We then decided that all good bands probably fall somewhere in between twee and prog rock.

Anyway, I’m off on a tangent, but this all leads up to a point. Because very soon, about ten songs into the set, I realized that I had a favorite songwriter in the group, so I asked the merch guy, “Hey, who’s singing now?” And it was Jimmy from Elf Power. So there you go; I like Elf Power.

As a matter of fact, it turns out I liked all of the music being played tonight. Whether quiet or loud,  there wasn’t one moment in the set when I was bored. I had to ask the merch guy a couple more times, “who’s that?” Each time he would answer politely and point to their albums on his table. (Note to self: listen to The Sunshine Fix)

For nearly three hours, the members of the band took turns on the microphone, on the guitars, the drums, the bass, the keyboards, many kinds of woodwind and brass instruments, a saw, a banjo, and I think I heard a kazoo in there. If an instrument needed to be played, it got played. It was like watching a bunch of friends figure out each other’s songs, except there was a setlist, and they knew them cold.

Really, they played everything

Well, except for the first song of the second set, which was chosen by an audience member. The one prize for the one game of the night was to pick a song, any song, that the band would play. The guy who won picked Michael Jackson’s “Rock With You.” After a four-minute huddle, the band came out and played the chorus of “Rock With You” a few times, and then got on with the rest of the set. I would have chosen “21st Century Schizoid Man.” Maybe I can win next time.

Now other than that part, and the aforementioned, but not yet named, Neutral Milk Hotel cover, the crowd was mostly standing with polite attention. There wasn’t much life in the audience, apart from when Scott Spillane announced that they were going to try a song that someone had asked for the previous night. When he began playing “Glue,” one guy in the balcony yelled “YEAH!” That must have been the guy from last night. But other than him and this one girl who danced excitedly throughout, there wasn’t much life in the crowd.

And that was the one problem with the show. While there were certainly many people in the audience who were fans of these bands, enough where they recognized everyone on stage without having to ask the merch guy all the time,  and seemed to know a fair portion of the songs, there were others who were clearly there only to hope that Jeff Mangum would show up. These people sat in couches on the balcony, not even paying attention to what was going on, mired in their own conversation. I walked by them in wonder; who would do this?

I really liked this pedal board. Thus, the photo.

I guess when you have a reclusive hero, you’ll take any odds at a shot to see him. You wouldn’t want to NOT be there on the night he is. But would it kill you to enjoy what is being played? It was being played wonderfully, so it would be worth your time.

When, during the third encore, Scott Spillane asked for requests, the first thing he heard shouted was “Fool.” So he grabbed a trumpet and played it as the band joined along. Oh, I’ve never heard an audience more excited for a 2-minute instrumental. (“YYZ” is about five minutes.) Were those in attendance so engaged for the rest of the night, the roof would have been blown off the place.

As for me, I have a new appreciation for a lot of bands I had paid a little attention to, and now I have a playlist for the next few weeks. The big surprise about the Elephant 6 Holiday Surprise tour isn’t that Jeff Mangum is going to be there. The big surprise is that it’s probably a better because of it.

This written setlist was awfully close to what was played, but not exact.


Gordon Elgart

A music nerd who probably uses that term too much. I have a deep love for bombastic, quirky and dynamic music.

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