Club d’Elf, E. O’Dwyer’s, Saratoga Springs, NY-6/24
To some extent, Club d'Elf sounds a tad out of context whenever it ventures from its home base, the subterranean Lizard Lounge of Cambridge, Massachusetts, where it has played approximately twice a month for some seven years. Yet there's a special pleasure in seeing Mike Rivard and company adapt to new crowds and settings. Whereas it sometimes tries (with mixed results) to transplant the mesmerizing intimacy of its residency to a larger venue, on this night the band played up to the crowded Saratoga Springs room with an unusual level of raw power.
The sound was somehow bigger than usual during the torrid first set, as Rivard loosened his basslines to allow a few jams to swing freely, gaining momentum and peaking in one or two unusually blazing sequences. This ensemble earns its daily bread through infinitely nuanced, trancelike explorations of inner space; during the first set of this show, it instead approximated the feeling of a space shuttle re-entering the atmosphere and shuddering with the force of flames.
Bandleader Rivard and dynamo drummer Eric Kerr are the gravitational center of this ensemble of rotating membership. It is likely the name and participation on this night of longtime friend and collaborator John Medeski that made the gig commercially viable, but the enthusiastic crowd was clearly hooked into the egalitarian interplay between he, Rivard, Kerr, deejay Mr. Rourke (sometime touring mate of Soulive), and guitarist Oren Bloedow of the Lounge Lizards, who made his d'Elf debut.
Club d'Elf has been in the "too good to be this small" category for quite some time, but the rabid reception of the show by the New York crowd (who demanded and received that rarest of D'elfian events, an encore) demonstrates that the group can definitely take its innovative swirl of electronics, jazz, funk, drum and bass, and Moroccan folk music (yes, you heard me) on the road to great success. Perhaps this local crowd has been ordering some of the band's many live releases on Kufala or dipping into the extensive library of live recordings on www.archive.org; its knowledgeable enjoyment of the material may indicate a broadening of the Club d'Elf landscape.
The gig happened in a very promising new spot that offers musical entertainment of this sort on the fringe of the cologne-and-hoochie-drenched bar district of downtown Saratoga Springs. The management of bar Eowen O'Dwyers seems to have essentially handed over the keys of its spacious upstairs room to an inventive local promoter. As the usual bar crowd does its thing downstairs (with audio and video feeds of the performance piped in), bands like Club d'Elf, The Duo, and Brother's Past rage above. D'elf sounded particularly good on the newly-installed sound system, with Rivard's amplified acoustic bass achieving the neon earthiness of great drum and bass records, with the help of ridiculously indefatigable Kerr. The place isn't just for localsit won't be hard to find a good excuse this summer to drive up from the City.