31st May, 2019
An acquaintance recommended Elephant Sessions live to me. I’d listened to their latest album and liked it, but somehow never managed to get to a gig, especially since they seem to be gigging all over the world these days. Their music is a bit like the electro-trad of Celt-fusion Simard & Gagné, Melisande or Ashley MacIsaac’s fiddling. But there is more than a hint of the progressive electronica of the likes of Boards of Canada in there too. I was interested to see when presenting a full set live, if, like the mythical Kelpie, they were a beast of two natures – would the two sounds that they marry so well on vinyl come undone, or worse, go a wee bit cotton-eyed Joe?
The audience in the cosy Joan Knight Room at Perth Theatre had been suitably warmed up by Perthshire’s own funksters Bohemian Monk Machine. Stank faces aplenty to some nasty grooves, the lads went though some soul-funk classics and a few licks of their own with real attitude, getting the audience in the groove like the wrong sized underwear. Phew!
Elephant Sessions entered on an airy synth atmosphere that easily slipped into the, by now characteristic, progressive elevator fiddling from Euan Smillie and mandolin (yes, mandolin) from Alasdair Taylor, over a driving drum and bass line from Greg Barry and Seth Tinsley. Repetition, mesmeric, of a simple phrase is at the heart of electronic dance music. These guys get to the same place with traditional instruments. It’s infectious. Even this teuchter’s feet got tapping.
A selection of grooves from their first album “The Elusive Highland Beauty” and their acclaimed sophomore disc “All We Have is Now” demonstrated how the band have perfected their style. The track “Summer,” in particular, demonstrates a beguiling simplicity that is truly uplifting. To say that the audience thrilled to it would be a measured claim. “You guys are f**king brilliant!”, exclaimed someone at the end of one song, which got a roar of agreement. A few tracks from their new album “What Makes You” showed the guys just keep getting better. The track “Colours” was yet another crowd pleaser.
Elephant Sessions brought a real vibe to the room. Perhaps overall their set wasn’t as varied as their studio work, but it was driving and hypnotic, and fresh. Pasty Scottish folk can’t really dance, but the whole joint was jumping. Spectacular.