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Aloha, Elf Power, Instruments, Peachcake

Solar Culture, Sunday, May 14

I'm really sorry to have missed Peachcake. Someone who saw them tried to explain their music to me in terms of Brian Eno and Mexican wrestling. We are always intrigued by the impossible to imagine, yes? I was happy they left balloons all over the floor, though. Not only were they festive; they made great props for an audience member's most excellent interpretive dancing during the Instruments set.

Instruments is a side project of Elf Power's keyboard and cello player, Heather McIntosh, who writes the songs, plays acoustic guitar and cello, and sings lead. Sunday night, at least, her girl-next-door alto proved to be her least reliable instrument, but its homestyle charm put me in mind of a throatier Edith Frost. McIntosh's songs were less textured than most in the Elephant 6 camp, and less reliant on dynamics, but the family resemblance is striking. Her pop ballads flirt with prog and adult contemporary while maintaining the integrity of their indie ancestry.

Elf Power's set drew largely from their April 25 release, Back to the Web, which offered fans yet more evidence of the band's allergy to predictability, Andrew Reiger's predilection for lyrics about dreams and nature notwithstanding. This time out, Reiger has discovered new directions in a 12-string electric guitar. All by itself, that guitar seems to double the density of the arrangements, but more significantly, Reiger's found in it a fondness for Middle Eastern flavors. Drones and sitar sounds were everywhere, especially in "Somewhere Down the River," "King of Earth" and "Back to the Web." By contrast, "Everlasting Scream," from 2002's Creatures, felt like a good-old-fashioned, wall-of-noise guitar assault. Web's "All the World Is Waiting" could have been from the Mekons catalog, and the set closed with the very Brit-pop "Let the Serpent Sleep," also from Creatures. The band has been touring this material since last fall, and it showed in the confidence, liveliness and spontaneity of their playing.

Aloha closed out the evening with a set of emo-jazz-psychedelia. At 1 a.m., that combination was as difficult to wrap my mind around as Brian Eno-Mexican wrestling, but Aloha makes it all work with really extraordinary musicianship. Thirty or so fans were huddled as close as possible to the stage, the better to attend to switchbacks and nuances in the arrangements, and to Tony Cavallario's expressive vocals. Call me simple, but they had me with the marimba.

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