The Olivia Tremor Control
with Super Furry Animals and Elf Power
The Middle East Downstairs, Cambridge, MA • April 2, 1999
I am sure there are some of you that are thinking, “Oh boy, Olivia Tremor Control…Elf Power, this is gonna be great!” And so was I. After hearing about this Elephant 6 thing for the past three years, collecting a few records (which I enjoy and respect), and having too many close encounters with them, I was very excited to hear about their recent visit to Cambridge. In fact, everyone in this densely populated town was just as excited, if not more. WZBC, Boston College’s radio station, was promoting the show for weeks out, giving away elf-made posters and tickets for the show. Elf Power even went down to the station for a live performance earlier in the day.
Unfortunately, I am here to report that it was very much a big disappointment. And I do think it is safe to say, this is the general consensus of the audience. Perhaps the club owners were happy, though, considering it was a sold-out show. There must have been at least 800 people there when Elf Power had just begun. You could feel the excitement in the air when you walked down the stairs. People everywhere were just dancing around silly to the equally-silly pop tunes.
In fact, the one good thing I can say about any one performance is that Elf Power was fun. I had seen them before with Neutral Milk Hotel (another Elephant 6 band), but have not yet heard their recordings. I would generally clump them into the “pop” category. As with most live shows, it is hard to completely understand the lyrics, but I do believe they tend to sing about imaginary dream-like places and events. Their music has a very positive feel to it, almost refreshing, not in the way of it being new and original, just in that too many other bands sing of sad or hateful things. Most of the crowd did not know too much about Elf Power, but they grew to like them more and more as the set went on.
To my surprise, a lot of people were waiting for Super Furry Animals. To be honest, I can’t figure out why they were on the bill or why their fans were at this show. To me, they belong with bands like Seven Mary Three or Bush… corporate rock. They were not bad, just extremely generic! Basically, a rock ‘n’ roll band that would throw in these synth sounds and digital beats every now and then over and between what was going on — and people would love it! I actually heard someone saying how SFA were soooo original and the other bands were so plain and ordinary…?
So, after making everyone wait what felt like a year and miss the trains and buses to get home (they stop around 12:30 AM), the Olivia Tremor Control decided to unmask themselves and come on stage. But I guess they were headlining, and that is what rock stars do… I have never actually seen a picture of these kids without something covering up their faces, which I respect, so I really was expecting something similar on stage. And I was getting tired of trying to guess who was sitting back at the merch table that was in the band. …most everyone.
I have heard so many stories and read so many reviews of OTC that talked about how they would have up to 20 kids on stage with them just playing whatever they could get their hands on, reproducing that “Sergeant Pepper” sound they are known so well for. In fact, hours before I left for the show, I read a review on the show they had in Northampton, MA the night before, and it talked about how everyone played all these crazy instruments. Needless to say, my expectations were high! Unfortunately, I and others were let down. I guess the root members of the band were on stage, about 5-6 guys using two guitars, bass, horn, keys, and drums. Yes, they had a few little knickknacks by their side to change to and add percussion, but nothing to freak out over. Nowadays, most every band you go to see is trying the old switch-a-roo with instruments, so I can’t agree that they are so spectacular for trying it as well.
They played mostly tunes from their newest album. The crowd did begin to dwindle down rather soon into OTC’s set. Those who were jumping around aimlessly were now found with head in arms in some corner, asleep.
This incident actually turned to prove a theory I once thought of, and that is that OTC is nothing more than that quirky little sounds they throw in and between their “already once done” but well-harmonized pop tunes. I know that is why I enjoy the records I have. If I had to put it in small terms and did not have to worry about the details, I would have simply put it as… disappointed.