Elephant 6 Holiday Surprise Tour
The main pachyderm in the room at the Elephant 6 Holiday Surprise was Jeff Mangum, for whom the Knitting Factory audience thrice crackled electrically, but STFU already. The once/future Neutral Milk Hotel singer bellowed in joy with his friends, sometimes on the edge of tunefulness–on Pete Erchick’s “I Have Been Floated,” Elf Power’s “The Arrow Flies Close,” and the Olivia Tremor Control’s “Opera House”–and the crowd chanted his name for an encore that never came. But, as the players of the Elephant 6 Recording Company shuffled on and off in seemingly endless configurations over three hours, he was far from the only elephant.
There was also Major Organ, a fictional creation of the Athens collective, who starred in Major Organ and the Adding Machine, a new spin-off film from the collaborative 2001 album. The short movie–which played at the night’s beginning (and whose plot makes the Flaming Lips’ Christmas on Mars seem like Oscar bait)–also solves the main problem of rock flicks past: crappy dialogue. With the occasional silent movie-style card and a fantastic psych-concrete score assembled by Olivia Tremor Control drummer Eric Harris, the story was beyond immaterial. (It is also the first product in six years to sport the Elephant 6 logo.) Harris, though, was another elephant: present when Elf Power’s Andrew Rieger stepped to the mic, and on a few other jams, but never when his Olivia bandmates assembled, as they did for early single “Love Athena,” Will Cullen Hart’s “Yesterday’s World,” “Sleepy Company,” and others.
The night after Of Montreal’s Kevin Barnes–an occasional E6er–rode across Roseland’s stage in a goddamn loin cloth, the Holiday Surprise emphasized the collective’s joyous/sloppy DIY roots far more than the melodrama of their indie progeny (Broken Social Scene, Beirut, etc). It was as democratic as ever, too, with Gerbils leader (and Neutral Milk hornman) Scott Spillane getting as much mic time as marquee acts like the Olivias. There was Julian Koster’s singing saw (which duetted with Bill Doss on the latter’s “No Growing (exegesis)”), xeroxed masks, one NMH tune (the instrumental “The Fool,” played sloppily by Koster and Spillane), two drum stools (occupied by Koster, Hart, Elf Power’s Laura Carter, and a half-dozen others), the trusty Olivia bass (tossed traditionally between another half-dozen players), a giant metronome, a couple of pseudonymous E6 n00bs (Nana Grizol, Nesey Gallons), a wrestling match (and near pile-on) instigated by Mangum and Spillane during “The Opera House,” a motley 15-person traveling troupe, and smiles. Some Mangum’s, some his E6 mates’, some the crowd’s, all glowing. — Jesse Jarnow
The night before: Kevin Barnes onstage in a loin cloth