Elf Power/Icarus Himself; September 27, 2010; High Noon Saloon
Funny thing about Elf Power, I don’t know their songs and lead singer Andrew Reiger, who looks exactly like a combination of the Weakerthans John Samson and Jeff from the TV show Chuck, barely speaks during the set other than introducing the songs or a sincere “thanks very much everyone” following, but the two times I have seen them I enjoyed them immensely. The first time was the Pitchfork Festival in Chicago where everything other than Jarvis Cocker had been a disappointment. I’d wandered from stage to stage without finding anything to get excited about until late afternoon found me at Elf Power, and I smiled for the rest of their set. Something about their songs is instantly infectious, like that person you meet at a bus stop and like immediately but who gets on a bus before you find out anything annoying. Maybe that’s what “elf power” actually is.
I’m sure they weren’t expecting a huge crowd on a Monday night in Madison, but I don’t think they had any idea what they would be up against. Tonight was the first of the Packers’ appearances on Monday Night Football, and tumbleweeds could have been blowing through the High Noon it was so desolate. Still, they seemed not to notice, or at least made the best of it. One track that did stand out was a cover of the Royal Trux “Junkie Nurse.” I don’t know the Royal Trux at all, but that one song was enough to make me want to. When they reached the end of their set, most of the band moved toward the stage steps, while bass player Brian Helium remained seated. There was a reason for that, he was on crutches. The meager, but enthusiastic crowd cheered loud enough that the band paused only slightly before returning, “We’ll just go ahead and play another one if that’s OK so that we don’t have to make the cripple get off stage.” It was definitely OK.
Pairing local band Icarus Himself with the Elephant 6 band was a good choice. The band has evolved over the years from its beginnings as a solo side project to Nick Whetro’s National Beekeepers Society, eventually becoming a duo with Karl Christianson, and recently adding a drummer. Now that Icarus has become Whetro’s primary focus, he’s retired the Beekeepers to concentrate on it. Early shows were sometimes brilliant, but often tedious affairs, as the tuning and fiddling between songs was usually as long as the song itself, but recent shows have seen them getting increasingly confident. We had to laugh as Christianson commented at one point during tuning, “we’re trying to get faster in between songs.” They needn’t worry, they certainly have. The band recently released the Mexico EP, a six song collection which makes a nice addition to their catalog. Despite the fact that I am not a fan of the extended play record (they’re just too short), this one is worth having just for ridiculously catchy opening track “Digging Holes,” which is the best example so far of the everything the band does well. I’m expecting big things from these boys.