The Olivia Tremor Control at the Varsity Theater, 9/12/11
The Olivia Tremor Control
Photos by Erik Hess
September 12, 2011
Varsity Theater, Minneapolis
They were never stalwarts. They can't really be described as holdovers from the '90s, since they broke up in 2000 and reformed in 2005. But ask the right people and they will go on and on about the Olivia Tremor Control. They will tell you they were the best band of the '90s--maybe the best band ever. Ask others and they were a band that was intensely disliked or worse you'll be met with blank stares from people who have never heard of them.
Such was, and still is, the existence of the Elephant 6 bands.
There were eight people onstage Monday night at the Varsity (and at one point a ninth, as they pulled Patrick Tape Fleming from local band the Poison Control Center out of the audience to sing with them) creating the signature ethereal, psychedelic cacophony for which OTC is known. But it's an odd cacophony. There were a million things going on at once but in the cores the songs--songs that are often structured like dreams, with ups and downs and strange, sharp left turns--are killer hooks that drag you into the something akin to suspended animation whether you want to go or not. They often ran two or three songs together and played unsettling samples of what seemed like audio from old films that had been manipulated, further pushing the dream state OTC wishes to exist in.
Overall, the music resembled pop songs bent just to the point of breaking without ever giving way. Head OTC-ers Bill Doss and Will Cullen Hart share an affinity for '60s pop but they took that aesthetic and gave it an acid bath (in every sense of that term) to pretty it up in their own way and for the most part it worked from start to finish Monday night. At one point near the end they played "Green Typewriters", which takes up the entirety of side 3 of their sprawling 1996 debut Music from the Unrealized Film Script, Dusk at Cubist Castle and that turned out to be both the key to and highlight of the 70-plus minute set. "Green Typewriters" is actually ten separate songs with the same name, varying in length from :24 to 9:39. They fit well together as one song but each piece is it's own separate entity--just like dreams play out.
The set was structured in the same manner and the best thing about it was that it was unnoticeable for the first 15 minutes or so, just like the twilight state we enter as we fall asleep at night. It seems exceedingly difficult and maybe even impossible to have created something like the Olivia Tremor Control's discography but unlike the world in which they succeed at mimicking, it exists; it's tangible. You can touch and hear it as much as you like. And honestly, the world is a slightly better place with their music in it.
Critic's Bias: I have never been a hardcore Olivia Tremor Control fan, but that may have changed Monday night.
Photos by Erik Hess
The Crowd: Every nerd you went to high school with, myself included.
Overheard In The Crowd: "The crackhead problem downtown is worse lately, it's like there's been a bad batch on the streets or something."
Random Notebook Dump: You can never really erase the South from bands hailing from there.
For More Photos: See our full slideshow by Erik Hess.