elms last bandThe Indiana-based band gives its jubilant all as it bows out.

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If you are going to end a band’s career, get it on record. This may not be the last band on Earth, but it is the last show for a band that was earthy in the same way that Springsteen used to be.

Across their career, the Indiana quartet has seen and reflected back ordinary life in its music, particularly with The Chess Hotel, which portrayed the claustrophobic spirit of a mid-Western small town and the torpor that it created in the lives of its inhabitants.

So the final show has no visual pyrotechnics, no screen projections, no pretensions. It is simply all about the check-shirted band, their fans and the music.

And they have collected some great songs over the years. “This is How the World Will End” rumbles with energy, using intensity, rather than speed, to charge its power. "Who Put Rock & Roll in Your Blood" is driven, while “Bring Me Your Tea” and “She’s Cold” are the nearest they get to head-bangers. The scorching “Speaking in Tongues,” from their Christian-label days, had to be here as it was built to be played live, featuring guitarist Thom Daugherty’s superb solo. That spiritual spark means that the audience reacts with its hearts as well as its ears.

With singer Owen Thomas often laying down his Telecaster in favour of the mic, that power comes largely from Daugherty’s classic Les Paul sound (especially on “No Room to Talk”): thick and dirty enough, but rich and with a glow around the edge.

In a two hour set, there has to be a breather or two and works like “Smile at Life Again” give that. As Daugherty slows it right down, he creates a still moment as if he is freezing time to capture the scene in his memory.

Highlights include the remarkable solo in “The Way I Will,” but this is an ensemble piece, with the whole set honouring the whole catalogue. Holding it all together is a solid rhythm section (Christopher Thomas on drums and Nathan Bennett on bass) that responds well to when those moments happen that catch the band/fan rapport.
Visually, the hand-held cameras, the switches to black-and-white, and low-lighting all amplify the intensity of that band-fan relationship, while bringing extra edge to the classic American rock mood. At times, the shots are a little too frenetic, with close-ups losing focus or missing the fingering on the guitar neck that the cameraman is aiming for. But it does capture some of the intimacy of being squashed in the front row at a sweaty gig.

Reportedly culled from a four-hour show, the set is available as a 110-minute, 20-song live DVD and 30-track downloadable soundtrack. The Elms should be proud of this as a fine record of a memorable night.


Derek Walker
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