Nothing quite compares to an Olivia Tremor Control show. That's what those who got to see the Athens, Georgia psych-pop group before their 2000 breakup often say – and it's doubly true now that they've reunited for a tour that came to New York's Le Poisson Rouge last night.
A quick primer for the uninitiated: The Olivia Tremor Control released only two LPs in their first lifetime, 1996's Music from the Unrealized Script, Dusk at Cubist Castle and 1999's Black Foliage: Animation Music Volume One. They attracted a fervent cult following by wedding summer-of-love-redux pop songcraft to far-out tape-loop experimentation – something like what might have happened if the Beatles had kept getting weirder after the White Album instead of retrenching. Both of OTC's albums were ambitious opuses, teeming with huge singalong hooks and tiny headphone surprises. It was hard enough to pull off that densely detailed sound on the records they spent years making, but recreating it all live, as they did at Le Poisson Rouge? Incredible.
The band – lead singer-guitarists Will Cullen Hart and Bill Doss, multi-instrumentalist John Fernandes, keyboardist Peter Erchick, drummer Derek Almstead (in place of the original lineup's Eric Harris) and assorted other members of the extended Elephant 6 family – took the stage shortly after 10 p.m. with a clattering, crashing, high-energy dash through "A Peculiar Noise Called 'Train Director.'" It was a scene of joyous chaos that lasted all night. One moment they were screaming and leaping like wild-eyed madmen ("I'm Not Feeling Human," "Memories of Jacqueline 1906"), the next they were lost in angelic a cappella harmonies ("Define a Transparent Dream," "The Sylvan Screen"). Free jazz freakouts and strange feedback bursts between songs brushed up against sweet pop melodies ("Jumping Fences," "No Growing," "NYC-25"). Nearly 20 minutes of the main set were devoted to "Green Typewriters," the trippy 10-part song cycle-slash-ambient noise sculpture that takes up Side 3 of Dusk at Cubist Castle on vinyl. It tells you everything you need to know about the devotion of OTC's fans that the whole room erupted in cheers when Hart introduced the suite.
It was a pleasure to see Hart and Doss trading lead vocals, singing back-up on each other's songs and exchanging goofy grins from across the stage. After a few years of bad feelings, they're back to being a dynamic duo. And this tour is more than just a nostalgia trip. OTC have been quietly working on a new album for a couple of years now, and they recently released a fantastic single, "The Game You Play Is in Your Head, Parts 1, 2, & 3" – a multi-chapter odyssey like 1996's "Holiday Surprise 1, 2, 3" (another highlight last night). When they played the new tune, it was clear that the magic is still there.
"You guys rule," Doss said from the stage as the last song in their encore ("The Opera House") met with rapturous applause. After the show, members of the band hung around the venue for a while, chatting happily with fans. Doss said he's excited to play all the brand-new songs they've been recording on the next OTC tour. Here's hoping it comes soon.
"Opening"/"A Peculiar Noise Called 'Train Director'"
"I'm Not Feeling Human"
"Memories of Jacqueline 1906"
"Define a Transparent Dream"
"A Place We Have Been To"
"The Game You Play Is in Your Head, Parts 1, 2, & 3"
"California Demise (3)"
"I Have Been Floated"
"No Growing (Exegesis)"
"A Sleepy Company"
"The Sylvan Screen"
"Holiday Surprise 1, 2, 3"
"The Opera House"