See more Elf Power shots in our slideshow.
By Martin Cizmar
There’s a shortage of music for the contented. Not the ecstatically happy or the introspective, mind you, but for those who are simply satisfied with life for a moment. That’s why it was such a joy to see Elf Power play Saturday night. Maybe it was the adorable little girl dancing in the front of the stage or the warm wood and soft acoustics at Modified Arts, but I’m hard pressed to remember a show where I scanned the crowd to see so many Buddha-like smiles of quiet contentment.
The veteran indie pop from Athens, Georgia – 14 years and 12 albums in to a career that’s never produced a semi-hit or even a song for a commercial, as many other Elephant 6 bands have – brought a graceful, blissful sound to the show, where they also backed singer-songwriter Vic Chesnutt, who closed out the night. Opening the show with the fitting “An Old Familiar Scene,” the band was tight, with singer Andrew Rieger looking uneasy, in an endearing sort of way, while Moog/keyboard/accordion/xylophone player Laura Carter adding colorful touches everywhere she played. The bouncy “We Dream In Sound,” with a gnarly little guitar solo not on the recorded version, was a high point of the set, as was the closer, “The Everlasting Scream.”
Vic Chesnutt, a singer-songwriter who was partially paralyzed in an auto accident at age 18, played a subdued set with Elf Power backing him. Through 13 albums the Georgia native has written some impressive songs, including some great stuff on Dark Developments, his new record with Elf Power and Amorphous Strums. “Mystery,” which opened the night, is built around some great guitar sounds and Chesnutt’s plaintive voice, while “Little Fucker” (introduced as “a song about myself”) shows his dark sense of humor. The curious case of the “Bilocating Dog,” was another great moment, as jangly 60s guitars and audience-aided handclaps filled the room with warmth. Chesnutt’s grainy, occasionally off-key vocals worked might not be for everyone, but I’m a fan. His guitar work is marvelous, especially given the junky electric acoustic he summons the sound from, flimsy and held over his shoulder by a length of twine.
As Chesnutt finished up his set with the brooding “Independence Day” – from his first album, it’s filled with Chesnutt’s sinister wit – most of the smiles in the crowd were turned flat with contemplation. Not long after he was done strumming, though, the bliss returned, aided, perhaps, by that quiet satisfaction of knowing you just witnessed something wonderful.
Last Night: Elf Power and Vic Chesnutt at Modified Arts in Phoenix.
Better Than: 49 days of meditation under a fig tree.
Personal Bias: Extreme. I have been known to suggest indie music was perfected in Athens, Georgia circa 2000 by the cadre of bands based there.
Random Detail: Elf Power’s guitarist was drinking a Sparks on stage. No need for indie rock pretense and a microbrew if you’ve lived it for over a decade.
By the Way: I don't ever say this, but I'm so glad these acts are still together, touring and recording. Elf Power and Vic Chesnutt certainly aren't doing this for the money (what's $12 multiplied by 80, divided by six, minus touring expenses?) but I truly feel lucky to have seen this show.
Photos by Victor J. Palagano