Elephant Revival in Madison

Josh Klemons on September 20, 2013

Photos by Dan Perry.

Elephant Revival

High Noon Saloon

Madison, WI

September 12

Elephant Revival, a string-based quintet from Colorado, has a sound at once both modern and timeless. Celtic fiddle lines mix with electric banjo licks, fifties chord progressions mesh with (organically-created) techno beats, it is a sound at once both recognizable and surprising.They brought that sound to Madison’s High Noon Saloon on September 12th.

They opened their set with “What’s That?,” a beautiful gypsy jazz ballad led by singer/percussionist Bonnie Paine. The song was driven by Sage Cook’s electric banjo, sounding more Django than Scruggs, and Paine’s rollicking washboard. Her voice soared above, a strange and wonderful combination of Alison Krauss and Bjork.

They then played “Birds and Stars,” the first track from their upcoming new album. Think Jackson Browne with a techno-folk backbeat. Here Cook brought an almost Santana driven sensibility to the song, one that remained and resurfaced throughout the night.

After a few more tracks from the upcoming record, Bridget Law led the band through an almost (but not quite!) traditional Celtic fiddle tune. While Paine’s washboard previously had sounded like a snare drum, or even a full jazz kit, now it was transformed into a Bodhran, beating out traditional Celtic rhythms with grace and flair.

The band spoke several times throughout the night about how much they loved Madison. “We really like progressive towns.” They also mentioned the horrific flooding currently taking place in their home state and they dedicated several songs throughout the set to those back home affected by the disaster. Amongst them was a hootenanny of a song called Rogue River, which was performed without any strings. But it lacked nothing as the voices sang, hands clapped, washboard rustled and the djembe thumped, with some help from guitarist Daniel Rodriguez.

Then, from foot-stomping and arm-swinging, they seamlessly returned to heartwarming with “Grace of a Woman.” Cook and Law traded licks masterfully while Rodriguez, back on his guitar, led the band through this strong ballad with solid pop sensibilities. The refrain for the song – Wo-oh-oh – led to easy and comfortable audience participation. The High Noon swayed just a little bit.

Dango Rose held down the low-end throughout the night on his upright bass, and now he got a chance to show off his singer/songwriter chops as well on the outlaw-tinged “The Lost Creek.” At this point, Paine had removed her Edward-Picker-Hand gloves and was banging away on the djembe, all the while still adding elegant harmonies overtop of Rose’s strong lead vocals.

Elephant Revival’s members are all singers and songwriters who shifted instruments throughout the night. Cook in particular shined as he moved effortlessly from banjo to guitar and mandolin to fiddle.

The band closed out the set with “Ring Around the Moon” featuring Paine on the sawed bow, as an already haunting song took on a further ethereal element. They encored with another song dedicated to their friends in Colorado: “Over the River.” The song sounded like a fifties ballad that might have been written by Norah Jones. It was a graceful end to a graceful night.

Now, everyone think good thoughts for those struggling in Colorado.