Olivia Tremor Control – Great American Music Hall, San Francisco – 4/23/99

There are will be moments, in the life of a music lover, where you will witness pure and simple performance greatness. Standing before a crowded stage of musicians who call themselves Olivia Tremor Control, you will often feel this greatness. Aside from the attention-getting weirdness that you often witness with OTC live (a life-sized metronome, two large white gloved wooden hands that clap whenever the drummer hits the base drum, and a variety of other strange instruments and approaches) what you get at a show like this one is performance that is about something completely from different their studio work.


At the top of their game the OTC creates the purest, most inventive pop songs and sounds since the Beach Boys did circa “Pet Sounds,” and the mid-60s Beatles during “Revolver” and “Rubber Soul.” It may sound simple, reinterpretting music invented by others, but why then has it taken over thirty years for anyone to even come close? One of the most amazing things about the Tremor Control is that, not only can they approximate the genius of Paul and John, and Brian Wilson, they also do something with that sound the masters never did: play it live. By the time the Beatles stumbled into their studio dreamworld, they had all but stopped touring. By the time “Pet Sounds” was released Brian Wilson had become a recluse and the touring band mostly stuck to the poppier surfing songs rather than to the hard-to-reproduce studio work. OTC, on the other hand, takes that studio experimentation to the stage, and creates a kind of surreal pop adventure and then adds to it all the spontaneity of the live jam.


Underneath the surface of the sometimes-intentional sloppiness of the OTC, the band attempts to blanket a room with sound, slowly building a tremendous wall out of a symphony of oddly juxtaposed instruments. Singers William Cullen Hart and Bill Doss, trade harmonies a bit like Paul and John, lolling around on stage clutching their guitars and bouncing their heads to the sound of undiluted pop.


If there is anything with indie rock these days, it is the demise of the strength of the live performance. But thanks to Olivia Tremor Control, and many of their brethren in the Elephant 6, the play a full spectrum of rock music, both with a rock band enthusiasm and with the legitimate musical skill to mesmerize a crowd. These guys are the real thing, in a world of MTV hyped one hit wonders.