The Elephant 6 Holiday Surprise Tour
10 p.m. Saturday
One Eyed Jacks, 615 Toulouse St., 569-8361; www.oneeyedjacks.net
For the past month, Will Cullen Hart's tenants have been treated to a special form of dinner theater: rehearsals for the Elephant 6 collective's 2011 reunion tour.
"It's in our kitchen," says Hart, a co-founder of both the Athens, Ga.-based constellation of psychedelic pop revivalists and its revered copilot, The Olivia Tremor Control. "It's a two-story house that my soon-to-be wife bought, and we have roommates that aren't in the band at all. They're cool with it. I was like, 'We don't need to go set our stuff up at some practice space that we have to rent. Let's just do it in the kitchen!'"
With typically anachronistic humor, the tour — a reprisal of the initial E6 reunion in fall 2008, which featured a dozen or more members playing each other's songs — bears the same "Holiday Surprise" motif, despite the fact that it commences this week in Roswell, Ga. (Give them this: They never specified which holiday.) "There's an Olivia Tremor Control song I wrote called 'Holiday Surprise, 1, 2, 3,'" Hart says. "It's hard to get everybody together. You know, like, 'Oh, I could do that in six months.'"
That they're doing it at all is momentous. The E6, whose origins trace back to Ruston High School in north Louisiana's Lincoln Parish, is something of a holy grail for independent pop/rock: an elusive, artistically untouched endeavor, formed accidentally by a gang of childhood friends (Hart, Bill Doss, Robert Schneider and Jeff Mangum) who in their 20s forged a network of 1990s-defining underground bands (OTC, Apples in Stereo and Neutral Milk Hotel, to be joined later by Of Montreal, Elf Power, Beulah and many others).
After a stunning run of self-produced albums — including NMH's spirit-visited 1998 opus In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, a tortured-folk, singing-saw interpretation of The Diary of Anne Frank, now recognized among the best records of the decade — the co-op dissolved. Some bands went on temporary or permanent hiatus (OTC, NMH), others mutated (Of Montreal), still others continued making records (Apples, Elf Power). The 2008 reunion was the result of a phone call by NMH's and the Music Tapes' Julian Koster, which sprouted into a tree. Now, in Hart's kitchen, they're breaking out the axes again.
"We still are good friends and hang out a good bit, but not as much — everybody's got different things going on in their lives," says Elf Power's Andrew Rieger, who with bandmate Laura Carter runs the E6 relative Orange Twin, a likeminded label and sustainable commune. "It's cool to have a reason to get together, and a reason to be making music is always great."
Rieger estimates the ensemble has 60 to 70 songs ready to go, a lively recipe for an ever-changing set list. "I think we got a couple celebrity guests lined up," he says. "I can't really talk about it because I don't know if it's really happening. In each town that we know people in, we're going to try and have them come to sound check and work up a song or two. We're trying to make each show a little different."
Asked if one of the holiday surprises could be Mangum, who dropped off the grid following Aeroplane but recently resurfaced for a series of solo and group shows (including several dates on the 2008 tour), both Rieger and Hart demur. "We'll probably be in the car and somebody will pick up (the phone): 'Jeff's coming to that,'" Hart says, laughing. "Last time he had a lot of fun. It was nice to see him out again after such a long time."
"I really don't know," Rieger says. "I haven't talked to him lately. The last tour he just kind of showed up and jumped on board and played a bunch of the shows. So I would say there's a chance."