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Monday, January 9, 2012

Olivia Tremor Control's first ATL show in 13 years was a psychedelic hit

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At a sold-out performance at the Earl on Saturday night (Jan. 7), the Olivia Tremor Control marked their triumphant return to Atlanta with a two-hour set of noise collages smashed against ’60s pop harmonizing, channelling the baroque spirits that gave their music the stylized edge that revolutionized Southern indie rock nearly two decades ago. As it turns out, time has been kind to OTC, and for a group that hasn’t graced Atlanta with its presence since playing the Echo Lounge in 1999, their songs revealed a ubiquitous quality that transcends the tone and the trends of the era in which they were written. They're timeless, and it's undeniable that something fantastic was happening on that stage Saturday night, something cinematic — almost spiritual.

The show kicked off on a high note as Bill Doss, Will Cullen Hart, Derek Almstead, John Fernandes, Scott Spillane, Peter Erchick, and AJ Griffin stepped onto the stage bathed in dark blue and red lights that did more to conceal their presence. As soon as they emerged, the warbled into to “Opening / A Peculiar Noise called ‘Train Conductor’” from the album Black Foliage: Animation Music, Vol. 1, filled the air. From there the music morphed into a psychedelic scream fest with “I’m Not Feeling Human,” a cut from an old Chunklet 7-inch released years ago. Things flattened out a bit after that.

Not to downplay what a treat it was to see OTC on stage again, nor to deny the excitement in the air, which was palpable from the moment I walked in and scoped out those cloud-shaped foam board decorations on the back wall, but it was an exhausting two-hour show. As promised, they played pretty much everything they could squeeze in, including a new song suite titled “The Game You Play Is In Your Head, Parts 1, 2, and 3.” It was an unexpectedly cool song, and a telling number that stood as the central point of the show reflecting the group's tight focus — a 180 from the reputation OTC's live performances developed in the ’90s.

By design Bill Doss’ ’60s pop guitar stylings are built around a loose jangle. He doesn’t have to adhere to strict arrangements, but he kept the songs tastefully in-check, adding concrete rhythms while lush, atmospheric clouds of hallucinatory noise, drones, horns and samples filled the spaces between the songs. No band has ever captured the ambiance of LSD quiet like OTC, and on Saturday the walls were breathing.

As far as MVPs go, everyone swapped instruments and brought their own personality to the show. John Fernandes’ serpentine violin and clarinet were hypnotic contrasts to Scott Spilane’s massive tuba. But it was Hart who brought the most defined depth and character to the close vocal harmonies that he shared with Doss.

When the show started to lag a bit, and the crowd showed signs of becoming restless, “Green Typewriters” quelled any doubts in the room. It was the halfway mark - the point at which a good show became a great show - and it felt as though the group's members had paced themselves for the big payoff. The band played on, easing their way through more and more numbers from Cubist Castle, building intensity every step of the way.

The group functioned as a single living organism — 7 heads, 14 arms and an arsenal of instruments at their disposal. “Opera House” brought it all to a close, and when Doss and Hart shouted “We're in the movies, watching some people move their mouths, and a religious figure who's not really a religious figure 'cause he's an actor,” the quasi-spiritual abstractions came into perspective. The Olivia Tremor Control is back, and if Saturday's show is any indication of the shape of things to come, they're better now than ever before.

In case you didn’t feel like showing up, or didn’t get a ticket before it sold out, Southern Shelter has a pretty good bootleg of the show posted up on its site, and it' definitely worth checking out.

UPDATE: H.G. Henderson uploaded a few minutes of video from OTC's show at the Earl here.

... And photographer Mike White uploaded some video as well. Check it out, "Memories Of Jacqueline 1906."

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