There are plenty of reasons why Elephant Revival’s show at the New Mountain amphitheater last weekend could have been a washout. It was at the same time as the final RiverMusic concert, it had been raining most of the day and it continued to drizzle even as opener Ben Sollee took the stage.
But the Colorado-based band, a festival favorite, seemed at home in the elements and the audience, too, was happy to dance in raincoats. One person even had a vaudeville-style parasol tricked out with fairy lights. And the mist and purple stage lights added to the enchantment of the evening as Elephant Revival kicked off its show with “Home in Your Heart” — the sweet long notes of Bridget Law’s fiddle solo drifting elegantly through the haze.
“We like it here in Asheville, and we love a lot of the musicians who come [from] here,” said guitarist Daniel Rodriguez, early in the set. Later, Law added, “In Asheville, you guys are speaking of dreams.” The dreamy mood was perfect for the banjo-led (by Charlie Rose) “Sing to the Mountain,” with the audience contributing wolflike howls on the line, “Go and sing to the moon.”
“Sea Monster,” from the band’s new album, Petals, emerged from low drone and a wistful melody to build to an intense boil before falling away into ethereal drift — and then back into stratified rhythms and lyrics. The five-piece touring band makes good use of its members, creating dynamics with an all-hands-on-deck approach, but also making space for individual voices and instruments. There’s lush cacophony and shimmery silence, and all the nuanced distance in between.
The title track from Petals started so softly it was nearly lost in the buzz of conversation. But it was worth leaning in for strains of Rose’s upright bass and Bonnie Paine’s dusky vocal. As the song swelled on the night air, the violin and percussion fell into synch, stoking the energy of the crowd.
On “Spinning,” from the band’s These Changing Skies, the newgrass influences were more succinct. But a lilting, romantic mood took those acoustic instrument sounds in another direction. The chorus, sliding from a whisper to expansive strokes of vocal and washes of violin, were underscored by Paine’s kinetic washboard playing. The band differentiates itself with from other acoustic/newgrass/jambands with its use of auxiliary percussion for engaging rhythms that contribute to the melody as well as drive it. The combinations and textures of the group’s vocals, too, help to color in the story line and emotion.
“Hello You Who” began dark and spooky, Paine’s voice fluttering between sultry and edgy, the bass holding down the melody while other instruments added textural slashes and jabs. The song grew slowly, unhurried and masterfully crafted. “When I Fall,” another new track, is experimental in its own way. The band recently set the song — about connection and the power of love — to a video in support of immigrant rights. It’s hard to know if the audience at the live show felt that message, but the thick bass and heart-beat percussion definitely brought out the dancers.
Sollee returned to the stage, joining Elephant Revival for two songs including his own tune, “Cajun Navy.” He stayed for “Rogue River” at end of the band’s set. That song, led by hand claps and a cappella lyrics, was all about beats, the cool warble in Paine’s vocal, and the gospel feel that took the evening to a new height.