This was an evening fans had been anticipating for a few years – the return of Montreal psychedelia-leaning band Elephant Stone to UK shores. This, their only show here, took place at characterful music venue The Shacklewell Arms, meaning fans country wide had no option but to travel to the London venue, a fact that Rishi Dhir, the force behind the band, apologetically acknowledged.
Just a word about the support – Baby Vanga, who were absolutely inspired and, like Elephant Stone, bringing something unique to the table. Their danceable Latin / jazz fusion (including flute) exploded onto the stage and, combined with the six members on-stage chemistry, will have won them many new fans.
Elephant Stone began with a sitar intro – undoubtedly one of the most thrilling aspects of the band’s music are the moments when Rishi heads over to the sitar bench. The audience was hushed, respectful… maybe too respectful, as Rishi commented toward the end of the gig. I briefly reflected on the subject of ‘irritating gig talkers’ – a topic yet again being discussed on social media, but the same could not be said for tonight’s crowd, who were totally focused on the music unfolding on the stage.
Rishi swapped sitar for bass guitar for the majority of the set, starting with Setting Sun and the wistful Heavy Moon from 2013. He introduced Lost in a Dream, the recently released single, a first taster from a new album to be released next year. Heard straight up against the more jangly material of their earlier output, this track is the clearest indication of a further shift in the band’s sound. The staccato guitar notes to open, the prominence of Miles Dupire’s drums, it’s all been sharpened up and given more of an edge. Changes, well tweaks anyway, are ahead.
Producing an album in French was a Covid project for Rishi and the result was the quirky EP Le Voyage de M Lonely, from which the band played La Fusée de Chagrin (The Rocket of Sorrow), a concept album that follows the story of M. Lonely who boards a rocket ship to the moon. The fact it was in French was a bit lost as the vocals were rather low in the mix.
The setlist was a thoughtfully balanced journey through Elephant Stone’s prolific output and it highlighted just what an incredible and abundantly rich body of work the band have put out there. I was hoping for a few tracks from one of my favourite albums, 2020’s Hollow, an inspired concept work and indeed they covered a run of tracks including the proggy Land of the Dead. It would be good to hear the album played live in its entirety some time, but I fear that will have to remain wishful thinking.
A high point was the moody Looking For Baby Blue, its insistent, cool opening riff played with fluidity by guitarist Rob MacArthur. Rob was in the UK with The Besnard Lakes’ 2022 tour. The evening was punctuated with sitar moments, during which an almost visible ripple of excitement seemed to flow through the audience.
Despite admitting to feeling tired, Rishi commented that this has been his favourite tour so far, and as the evening progressed he became increasingly chatty, sharing more stories with us.
For Elephant Stone fans this appearance was a triumphant return and it’s welcome news that the forthcoming album will have a February 2024 release, which should be followed by a tour in May.