I caught up with the The Elephant 6 Holiday Surprise tour as it made its stop at the Independent in San Francisco on Sat./5, and it was nothing short of magical. A dozen or so core members of the Elephant 6 Collective rotated instruments and played each others' songs. It was like a slice of Athens, Georgia performing on a holodeck-cum-stage for a bewildered SF audience that didn't know what to expect.
Singing saw virtuoso Julian Koster (Neutral Milk Hotel, Music Tapes) looked like he was dressed for a slumber party, and some may say he stole the show with almost sickeningly adorable storytelling and mechanized organ-playing contraptions. But there were many high points. The Athens folks' cover of Elf Power's cover of the Tall Dwarfs' “Nothing Is Going to Happen” and John Fernandes' (Olivia Tremor Control) tricked-out viola solo blew my mind, and perhaps my favorite moment was when angel-voiced Scott Spillane (Neutral Milk Hotel, the Gerbils) and his famously epic neck beard led the group in a caroling of the Gerbils' “Lucky Girl” which sounded better than the original.
There were games, and crowd participation, with one winner getting to choose a song for the group to play. He opted for something by Mazzy Star. I would have chosen something more out of character, like “Juicy” by the Notorious B.I.G., but then again, I wasn't playing. Maybe next year -- fingers crossed. These folks know how to entertain, and they managed to make a two-hour performance seem short, leaving me wanting more.