The Elms, their final production – a live DVD and companion soundtrack – proves that the Indiana rockers went out while they still cared.
What comes through the speakers in The Last Band on Earth is triumphant American rock-and-roll energy tinged with a layer of final show melancholy.
Recorded live at their July 30, 2010 finale at Radio Radio in Indianapolis, the 110-minute, 20-song concert film and 30-track downloadable soundtrack showcases the band’s earnest delivery and amped-up guitar rock punch.
Thom Daugherty’s guitar plays a starring role on this set, a majestic sound that’s dirty and elegantly unruly. The guitarist’s energy pushes singer Owen Thomas to a good place, a jubilant, emotional delivery anchored by Daugherty’s raucousness.
During the four hour final performance, The Elms revisited cuts from their entire catalog, pumping out music echoing Bryan Adams and Bruce Springsteen, with Daugherty showing some AC/DC and Aerosmith influence, too. This release melds those influences into a pretty damn good package.
The best songs, “Unless God Appears First” and “This is How the World Will End,” cast an anthemic spell, unhurried and heartfelt, blending gospel and American rock and roll. “The World” borders on epic with a call-and-response duel between Thomas and Daugherty near the end.
Thomas’ voice is far from a growl, his soaring vocals punctuated by healthy and genuine shouts of excitement and emotional yelps.
His brother, Chris, on drums, delivers Aronoff-like slams and crashes, and gives the band a thunderous rock presence.
The group never reaches the lyrical depth of Springsteen, but they draw on The Boss’ gospel and his ability to let the music tense and release. The Elms never completely lost the spiritual feel of their early days as a Christian band in Seymour, In., and songs like “Bring a Little Love to My Door” and ”Come on Down to the Water” embody those ideals.
Tunes like “She’s Cold” and “Strut” show off the band’s other side, more bluesy and groovy. Daugherty, who handled the final audio mix, leaves beautiful space for Nathan Bennett’s solid bass playing.
“Thunderhead” and “The Way I Will” highlight the Bryan Adams influence. Like the 80’s rocker, The Elms wield twin guitars, loud drums and lyrics simple and memorable enough to sing along to; this is a mighty good recipe for success in a sweaty club.
The music is warmly captured by engineer Mike Petrow, and the final night’s work is injected with a ’70s heartland rock sound. The band’s true success lies with their better-than-a-bar band Middle American feel.
Shot with handheld cameras, the DVD puts the viewer on stage. Edited by Owen Thomas’ multimedia company Absorb, the jittering views give the show a strange energy and a voyeuristic feel, bursting with intricate close shots.
The DVD and soundtrack captures The Elms as they reach for something meaningful, doing their thing one last time.