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the Gerbils / Elfpower / Neutral Milk Hotel, Spaceland, Los Angeles, 4/10/98

The Gerbils - Some of the other folks who were there really liked them, but I just kept thinking...'Hmmm. A generic rock band with occasional horns and strange lyrics.' Perhaps it just didn't click right with me. Or maybe I just couldn't stop staring at the guitarist / trombonist's fabulous beard, which I think should win Richard's Award for Near Approximation of the Cowardly Lion's Mane. I gave it 10 points.

Elfpower - Hmmm. The bearded guy was back for a few songs, as were a few of the other Gerbils...something strange is afoot. I suspect drugs, and a lot of them - you decide for yourself - here are some of their song intros:

"This is a song from our most recent album 'When the red king comes', where most of the songs were actually performed in the land of the red king. When you are in the land of the red king, you can change your shape, and this is a song about a girl who changes shape from a bird to a frog and then to an eel - it's called 'Icy hands will never melt away'."

"This is a song about a bird whose name was Simon, and Simon had a head which was made out of a candy bar. The other birds wouldn't let him fly, and made him stay on the ground so that when they got hungry, they could fly down and nibble on his head. Simon was a close friend of mine, and I'm going to miss him. So this song is called 'Simon, the bird with the candy bar head'."

"This is a song about a girl named Jane who liked to daydream, and how one day when she was in her backyard daydreaming, her friend Dan floated by in a bubble, and took her on a ride around the countryside."

"I wrote this song when I had a series of really terrible headaches, and I convinced myself that I had a brain tumor and was going to die. It turned out that wasn't the case at all, but at least I got a pretty good song out of it."

Neutral Milk Hotel - Now just a cotton pickin' minute. There were Elfpower folks and Gerbils scurrying about on and off the stage in a truly amazing coordinated shuffle of trumpets, trombone, flugelhorn, euphonium, accordion, saxophone, banjo, organ, and kazoo - culminating at one point with 9 people bouncing in tandem around the stage, floppy hair all askew. This would all have gotten pretty confusing until it became clear that all three bands are actually part of the Elephant 6 artistic commune / collective residing in Athens, GA, which also includes the friendly folks of the Olivia Tremor Control and the Apples in Stereo, among others. The only constant factor in the well-orchestrated instrumental rotation was guitarist Jeff Magnum, the apparent leader of musical amalgam. So when you blend all of that together, what was it like? Well...imagine the Beatles on drugs. Oh, duh...just imagine the Beatles a little more fuzzed-out and with more instrumentation. There was a kind of off-kilter Lucy in the Sky spirit running through their songs with psychedelic characters like the girl who was born with roses in her eyes and the two-headed boy floating in glass past the sun. Musically, the songs tripped quietly between simple acoustic guitar numbers and full-blown brass numbers lilting about like a drunken sea captain. The most amazing, crazy thing was that despite tenuously connecting so many moving parts, the whole thing stuck together in some kind of unexpected glorious majesty. Wow.

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