I had never seen Elephant Revival before tonight. And sometimes, ignorance is bliss, and the best way to see a live band. Having no expectations or prior convictions of how a show will sound or make you feel is liberating. After all, music is foremost an innate emotional reaction to rhythms, melodies, and lyrics, and when you have no existing mental model, your mind is forced to make one, which, in its synthesis, is one of the best parts of man’s love affair with music.
As a novice I was wondering what an elephant revival was exactly. Thoughts of Hannibal and his march over the Pyrenees during the second Punic war was the first thought that crossed my mind. And although the band took the stage with a presence strong as a wise of elephants, its actual approach and delivery was closer to that of the Sirens of Greek mythology, specifically the lead singer’s voice. Bonnie Paine’s timbre was ethereal and captivating in a way I had never heard before. My sentiment was shared as I noticed the entire audience also awestruck – a constant thread for the remainder of the night.
The opening song showcased this otherworldly vocal talent and reminded me of the hypnotic qualities of Led Zeppelin’s No Quarter. Mentally I kept trying to match the style with a familiar voice, but I failed. It was at this point that I realized that I was in for a fascinating night of music. The band was exquisitely formed with members that deftly played well-loved instruments and sung complimentary vocals. Another highlight was a banjo played as if it were an electric guitar, a new and enjoyable sound for me. A little rock and roll never hurt anyone.
To adorn the stage, the band had made a decision to go with a model of an enormous raven. Now an elephant I would expect, but a raven, while intriguing and eerie, left me confused. I was half expecting that Elephant would sing a version of the Beatles Blackbird - which the lead vocals would certainly nail - but it never came. This is not a complaint but just an observation from someone who had never seen Elephant; a seasoned fan would know its symbolism. And from what I could tell, there were many seasoned fans in attendance: singing every lyric, dancing every step, and reveling every moment.
After a lengthy and healthy dose of first rate entertainment, the band had to play the curtain closer. Bitter-sweet, it did not disappoint, as the Steep Canyon Rangers joined the Elephant Revival for a ten member strong encore. Full of fresh creativity and improvisation, the encore left the audience satisfied and looking eagerly to the next gig.