The Elms end run with epic final performance

The Elms - ten years and four albums

For more than four hours Friday night at Radio Radio, The Elms said goodbye the best way they knew how – they played heartland rock and roll.

Billed as a final performance as the Seymour-based group disbands, singer Owen Thomas and the rest of the gang went out on their terms. The show was Springsteenian in length, and showcased what they were ultimately best at: crafting memorable – and many times anthemic – pop/rock songs, showing roots of artists like Mellencamp and Petty.

The crowd (the show sold out well ahead of Friday) hung in there all night, through a 40-song set, rewarded with a sprint to the end that rocked heartily. They came to bid goodbye and fed energy back to the band, who was near the top of their game all night.

Thomas struggled to maintain his cool (though never lost his composure) early on, fighting back some tears as he talked to the crowd. As he told the audience before introducing the band, “You have two options: you can either be ‘profesh’ (as in professional) or you can let it all in.”

An early highlight was “Strut”, as guitarist Thom Daugherty showed why he may be one of the best rock and roll guitarists around, mixing sweetly nasty chords and powerfully elegant leads all night long. “Thunderhead” included great harmonies and the familiar “we can make it if you trust me” theme that permeates much of their best work.

Thomas told a story about a $150 jean jacket, with a flower sewn on it, that he bought in LA at a vintage clothing story, and that he had never worn it because the sleeves were too stiff. He said he washed it 40 times, and nothing worked to soften it. So he off cut the sleeves, and pulled it out of his closet and wore it for the last show.

Such was the tone of the night, with many songs, and lots of talking between them. Sometimes Thomas recounted a story about a bandmember, and other times said “I love you, I love you” to the crowd.

The others, including Owen’s brother Chris on drums and Nathan Bennett on bass, were more stoic, though Daugherty, who has been a friends with the singer since fourth grade, sweetly laid his head on Thomas’ shoulder at the end of the duo playing “Smile at Life Again”.

“You Got No Room to Talk!” from 2002’s Truth, Soul and Rock and Roll album mined the Bryan Adams territory they visit so well; Sugary-yet-powerful chord changes, drums that pushed the song and lyrics specific enough to mean something, and universal enough that you can make it your own story.

Hitting their stride with “The Workingman”, dedicated to their dads, and “Unless God Appears First” (possibly the best performance of the night), “The Tower and the Trains”, from 2006’s The Chess Hotel was introduced as an ode to their hometown, and Daugherty tore it up on guitar, while the rest of band broke out of the three-chord rock and roll songbook to get a little Zep-like.

A sprint to the end included “This is How the World Will End”, from The Great American Midrange album, and another example of why it is their best record. Gospel mixed with rock mixed with Elms. The same can be said for “The Way I Will”, one of the Chess Hotel’s pieces of power pop brilliance, and the energy of the night made the live version memorable.

Rockers “Back to Indiana”, “The Shake” and “Nothin’ to Do with Love” set the stage for “A Place in the Sun”, the final song off their final album. In the days leading up to the final show, Thomas has posted on his blog how the song had become his favorite. It’s message of finding one’s place in the world no doubt resonated deeply as the band prepared to quit.

There’s two questions to be asked: Was it a great show, and what made it worthy of a final performance?

The band answered with a show epic in length and heartfelt in delivery. The Elms were tight and aggressive when they played, and there was certainly no mistaking the love of the crowd for the four guys who grew from kids into adults in ten years, four albums, and hundreds of shows (and van rides) together.

For one last night, the bandmembers wore their hearts out in the open, and made some loud – and hopeful – noise, much like they have been doing in their decade together.

And if you are going to say a rock and roll goodbye, have a final blowout. And that’s what they did.

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BoDeans know the way to Indy

The BoDeans’ Friday show at the Vogue will be their one-millionth appearance in Indianapolis, as they are in town to play tunes from their ninth studio album, Mr. Sad Clown, released back in April.

OK. Not really. Yes, they are at the Vogue Friday, but have only played in our city 905,383 times since 1987. Every damn one of them a good show. Really. I’ve seen them so many times in the past 20 years – at the Vogue, or in Cincy at the Blue Note, or on a cold Monument Circle during Final Four weekend – and can’t remember walking away thinking that the band hadn’t worked hard at making a connection. The sound they make is unique. The new album is thoroughly BoDeans, and that’s why they survive.

We should be thankful there is a BoDeans; a band that rolls on despite just one (“Closer to Free”) song that could be considered a real hit. They have stayed true to their roots-rock and roll soul. Every show rocks, the audience sings, and guitars and drums are played loudly. Tell me what’s wrong with any of that? Continue reading “BoDeans know the way to Indy”

Remembering the Elms before their farewell show

For their final show before the group disbands, The Elms have sold out Radio Radio this Friday night (July 30). The group that broke out of Seymour as a Christian band and went on to make vibrant, heartfelt and truly midwestern rock and roll is calling it quits for reasons a bit ambiguous, and finish their run with this final Indianapolis show.

According to their Facebook page, the show will be filmed in HD, using multiple cameras. Singer Owen Thomas writes on his blog that “we’re kicking around several ideas for the footage, which range from a complete concert film to a documentary about the cumulative 10-year experience of The Elms.”

There is a terrific blog by Dan Ficker at inreview.net where Thomas addresses questions surrounding the group breaking up. In the interview, The Elms’ lead singer said it was just a feeling that things should stop. Continue reading “Remembering the Elms before their farewell show”

Hullabalou webcast this weekend; Cara Jean Wahlers releases Indiana music, Squidbillies welcome Americana

→ A couple hours south of Indianapolis, at the historic Churchill Downs, this weekend’s HullabaLOU Music Festival three-day concert begins Friday, and runs through Sunday. Since I’m not going, it affords the opportunity to watch a little of their live webcast. For me, a live music webcast is very nearly as good as finding treasure chest full of Coors Light and beef jerky. I like to geek-out and see how they handle the technical parts (audio, camerawork, etc…) of the webcast. Most of the time, I end up entranced at the coolness of watching it live, paired with being pissed because I would have done it differently. But that’s a “me” problem, right? Continue reading “Hullabalou webcast this weekend; Cara Jean Wahlers releases Indiana music, Squidbillies welcome Americana”

Old 97’s in Bloomington, plus Q&A w/ Blackberry Smoke and Billy Joe Shaver recovers from heart surgery

Avett Brothers

The Avett Brothers, out on the road for more than a year promoting the gorgeous I and Love and You album, have announced Live, Volume 3 is coming out on CD/DVD on October 5. The show is from August 8, 2009 and was recorded in Charlotte, N.C.

The Old 97’s rocked a show at Bloomington’s Bluebird on Wednesday night (July 21). In honor of that, head to their Facebook page – they’ve added a free digital three-song EP. I saw them when they came through Indy last summer, playing a gig at the Vogue – read the award-winning review here.

Have you heard the Georgia Satellites/Black Crowes/Cross Canadian Ragweed-influenced country rockers Blackberry Smoke? You should. The website That Nashville Twang has posted a Q&A with the band’s Charlie Starr. Worth a read for gems like Starr saying some of the best advice he’s received was from ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons, telling him to “get some good lookin’ boots”.

Outlaw country legend Billy Joe Shaver is recovering from heart surgery and is expected to resume performing in August. The Texas music hero cancelled three July shows due to chest pain and had minor heart surgery on July last Tuesday. Shaver, 71, also suffered a heart attack on stage at Gruene Hall in 2001.