Elephant Revival – CBC Studio 700 (Vancouver – March 1, 2014)
There couldn’t have been more of a contrast between Elephant Revival’s last visit to Vancouver and this one. The band played the Vancouver International Folk Music Festival on what turned out to be an incredibly hot, gorgeous summer day. This return visit was a generally grim day weather wise which ended with a heavy rainfall warning. Judging from the size of the crowd that time on the beach last summer was well spent: this Sunday evening show was a full house.
Enthusiasm for this show went beyond the crowd though: band member Bonnie Paine’s sister was giving birth “right now” as the band was playing, the baby apparently unwilling to wait for a quieter time. This proved to be a topic of much entertaining conversation from the stage as well as the inspiration for some additions to the set list. At the close of the band’s first set, Paine stood on the stage solo singing a lullaby for her yet to be born niece or nephew, and it was gorgeous.
That solo number stood in stark contrast to the rest of the night’s performance, which did a nice job of highlighting a band that’s about as collaborative as it gets. Over the course of a two hour I lost count of the number of songs each band member sung. It’s this that makes Elephant Revival hard to categorize as a band in the conventional sense. While the distinctive timbre and tone of Paine’s voice could probably be described as the hear of Elephant Revival’s sound, the reality is that the group acts as more of a collective in live performances trading off both lead vocal duty and instruments as it suits the song. Vocal turns taken by Bridget Law—the band’s fiddle player—were a particular standout: she’s got a beautiful voice.
One of the most distinctive aspects of watching the band play live is the lack of a traditional drum kit. The band’s rhythm is mostly provided by Paine on the washboard for most of its songs. Not a lot bands tour with a washboard, and it’s a captivating thing to watch played well. What is Time from the band’s It’s Alive EP featured a lengthy and fun solo performance from Paine on the Washboard that was a highlight of the show.
The band’s two sets saw the five piece band playing material from every album they’d released, while focusing on These Changing Skies, the band’s latest, and 2013’s It’s Alive. Songs like What is Time and What’s That were met with an enthusiastic crowd response that was somewhat out of character with the somewhat more sedate audiences at the Vancouver Folk Fest’s concert series. If memory serves, I recall hearing some vigorous wolf whistling at some point during the night.
One thing that is clear in my memory is the quick standing ovation the band received at the end of the second set. This was an audience that didn’t waste a second getting to its feet to ask for an encore.
Elephant Revival is most frequently tagged as a “Bluegrass” band, but that’s a bit cheap and disingenuous: just because there’s a mandolin and the occasional banjo doesn’t make a band a bluegrass band. The reality is that with five capable singers and several different instrument configurations the band spans a number of genres. On this night they drew an audience that showed this too: the crowd ranged from their mid-20s to people in their 60s.
This shouldn’t come as a surprise: there’s something in this band that just about everyone will like and even with that genre spanning sound, there’s a consistent core that makes it easy to become a fan of the band. Good music defies labels, and on this particular night there was a full room of Vancouverites who were there because they all cared about one thing: good music. Elephant Revival demonstrated that they were more than up to the task and then some—here’s hoping they’ll be back again on the sunny shores of Jericho Beach sometime soon.
Maybe, if we’re lucky, that baby that was being born during this show will be with them next time, too. It’d be nice to see how that all ended.
Elephant Revival haven’t seemed to stop touring and you can get a full list of dates on their web site. They’ll be playing festivals again this summer, including a number of Canadian folk music festivals and the Hillside Festival in Guelph. You can get their latest release These Changing Skies from the iTunes store.