Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Music Tapes Live at the Church, Boston, MA, October 12th, 2008

There’s a line outside of The Church Nightclub down the block. Fans are waiting patiently for the doors to open so they can see The Music Tapes and the rest of the Elephant Six Orchestra form Athens, Georgia. It’s taking longer than expected, because an unusual microphone set up has to be used for the singing saw, Magnus organ, tuba, clarinet, violin, two drum sets, and of course the standard guitars and basses. They also have to set up the projector and screen for the evening’s short film. It’ll be worth the wait, because this show will be one of the most unique concert experiences those fans will see in a while.

The mad scientist, Brian Dewan opened the show, singing antique tunes on his accordion and autoharp. A couple of the songs were renditions of fairy tales, Rumplestiltskin and the Three Billy Goats Gruff, and one song was about a robotic arm industry in Boston. Julian Koster, the force behind The Music Tapes, said he was a big inspiration.

After Dewan, a screen was set up and the short film “Major Organ and the Adding Machine” was shown. It’s based on and uses music from the album of the same name by Koster and Neutral Milk Hotel frontman Jeff Mangum. The film was a psychedelic journey about two kids gathering ingredients for Madame Truffle’s Moonpie Eye cookie, while the old bearded folks ask Major Organ to save them.

The collective of bands from the Elephant Six Recording Company played, including Olivia Tremor Control, Circulatory System, a few songs from Elf Power and many more. Koster introduced the show saying, “We are the Elephant Six holiday surprise…and so are you!” The show was like a huge jam session between friends, as no band played more than three songs before another band took over. Members were constantly trading instruments, pulling new ones from the back and jumping on different microphones. The technicians could hardly keep up with the changing sound levels, as the bands kept signaling them to turn up certain microphones.

The one downside to this type of show was that the songs by The Music Tapes were the most interesting, but Koster humbly played only his allotted amount. During “Majesty” the seven foot metronome that was stored in the corner of the stage swung back and forth, keeping the beat of the music. Some of the earlier Music Tapes songs consist of audio clips and strange effects on Koster’s voice. Such one song was left to Static the Television. On top of an amplifier was an old television set with a squiggly smile on it that sang as Koster jumped around in a circle, playing banjo. The way Koster bounced around with a guitar in his hands or a saw between his knees imparted the audience with his childlike glee.

Halfway through the show, Dewan set up the screen again to project what he calls I Can See Filmstrips. It was a series of paintings and drawings all about innovation, a topic appropriate for the evening. After that, Koster retuned and said the show was like a record they were flipping over and were now heading into side B.

The crazy collective Elephant Six holiday surprise continues this month across the country.


~Lee Stepien

Posted at WERS.org on October 13, 2008

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