“Is that an Elephant…with a violin?”

July 22, 2009

Elephant Revival

Elephant Revival

In our crazy world where consumer product diversity outnumbers biodiversity (probably), people search for meaning in strange places. This would explain why we have chocolate products named after elegant white birds, dish soap named after the expression of unbridled mirth, and a media & entertainment conglomerate named after the measurement system of duration and sequence of events. This search for meaning extends into the entertainment industry, since the connections artists build with audiences sells CDs and pays the cover at plenty of shows. This meaning doesn’t necessarily have to be definite, but it repels superficiality that can sprout like mold on so many successful touring bands when monotony sets in. I bring this up because I attended two performances of the touring band Elephant Revival, and the group gave me a sincerely meaningful musical experience.

The label “Trascendental Folk,” while accurate, seems to contradict the sense of focus and unity I get from their show. “Eclectic,” like my favorite buzzword “edgy,” gets tossed around too often today when you’re actually hard-pressed to find any modern group that isn’t, in some way, eclectic. Eclecticism and transcendentalism are natural outgrowths of the sheer abundance of popular culture, and aren’t necessarily “selling points” anymore. What makes Elephant Revival unique is that they are effortlessly and humbly transcendental, incorporating a cornucopia of influences in a way that seemed honest and natural. While all of their members were excellent, I was particularly impressed by the multi-instrumental talents of guitar/banjo/mandolinist Sage Cook who seemed at home with every instrument he touched, and vocalist Bonnie Paine whose captivating, lilting vocals were matched by her throwing down some serious washboard and djembe percussion.

Where the Axe & Fiddle show presented them at their most eclectic electric, the group gathered around an omni microphone at the Alberta St. Pub for a show which took advantage of the acoustically intimate setting. With nothing but church pews and wooden stools, the group treated a small gathering of family and friends (old and new) which grew steadily into a respectable crowd. In the Axe & Fiddle they were on stage, but in the Alberta St.Pub, they were at home, and that made the difference between a good show and a meaningful one. Myself and a cohort from The Student Loan even jammed with them on a few tunes, and that invitation alone added to the feeling that the group was offering more than simply a performance. They were willing to connect with new friends on tour and explore a little, and that means something.

“I love gluten.”
Sage Cook


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