There are lousy gigs, and then there are really lousy gigs. For The
Olivia Tremor Control, coming off a mini-West Coast tour with Beck where they
played to thousands every night, The Cellar, a dingy room in the basement of
the Student Union at the University of Arizona in Tucson, must have seemed like
the lousiest gig of them all.
The "venue," essentially a poorly-lit lunch
room with a vaguely English Pub decorating scheme (except without the beer or
any beverages, really) was the setting for a Wednesday (February 19) gig by the
psychedelic Georgia band, who were working their way home by playing little
gigs like this one.
How little? Well, counting the sound tech, there were
less than a dozen in the audience, two of whom seemed to be studying for a
mid-term, another of which wandered in and stayed only long enough to find out
the band's name. It was that kind of night.
The sound was terrible, the
lighting was worse and the band had no monitors, which made their usually crisp
four-part harmonies difficult to maintain. But, even though they played less
than a half-hour, the five-piece sound effects laboratory muddled through a set
of Beatles-meets-Mothers-of-Invention-with-a-side-of-Beefheart tunes that were
at times brilliant, at others a jumbled mess, which is about par for the
You could excuse them if they didn't schlep out the
Theremin for this show, but the band did cover the tiny stage with a bevy of
instruments, including a keyboard laden with effects pedals and several
cassette recorders, scores of flutes and toy instruments, a foot-activated tree
of sleigh bells, a clarinet and a box full of shakers, noise-makers and
assorted doo-dads that added some mirth to the somewhat depressing atmosphere.
Even without the monitors, guitarists Will Cullen and Bill Doss weaved
their two-part John and Paul harmonies to great effect on songs like "Memories
of Jacqueline 1906" from their 1996 full-length debut, Music from the
Unrealized Film Script, Dusk at Cubist Castle, while in the background,
cassette recordings of feedback and ambient crackles filled in the spaces
between the flurries of notes.
Several songs degenerated into Mothers-like
barrages of confusing notes, whether from tweaked effects pedals or guitar
feedback or, at one point, everybody picking up a wind instrument (flute,
melodica, clarinet) and just blasting away for two minutes.
"Holiday Surprise 1,2,3" could best be described as a psychedelic car crash
between a fluorescent paint truck and an ice cream van, with band members
reaching for whatever odd instrument was close at hand, including an outro
which consisted of a just-recorded tape of the ear-piercing jam at a slower
speed. Needless to say, there was no encore. Some nights are better than