Lil’ Elephant is a funk band looking to become your “portal into the spirit world.”
This collection of self-proclaimed “motley miscreants” — Adam Hughes, Kevin Goldberg, Edwin Rhodes and Connor Lonsdale — aims to create music that provides solace to its listeners.
“We want people to lose themselves during our concerts,” said Hughes, guitarist and lead vocalist. “We want our performances to be a place where people go to detach from their day. If someone comes alone, it is still a community event whether they like it or not. It is just people getting together and connecting through a shared experience. We provide the experience.”
The band started out solely serving as a creative outlet for its members. Its first performance came to be after an open mic at the former Temescal District wine bar Marc 49. The four musicians, not quite established as Lil’ Elephant, showed up to the weekly open mic at their favorite spot and jammed. The owner said they ought to come back for a real performance.
“We had like 5 songs at the time,” Hughes said. “I told him we would only be able to play for 20 or 30 minutes, but that we would play the hell out of those 20 or 30 minutes. It felt so good performing. The environment was intimate and the feedback was great. People wanted to know more about us and didn’t know we hadn’t been performing. We figured we had to make it official.”
Four years later, the band is set to open a portal to the spirit world atop the Kaiser Center as part of the 300 Lakeside Roof Garden Concert Series. The noon performance on Aug. 9 is a part of a free concert series on the lush, 3-acre high-rise landscape. The show will feature songs from its very first performance, now developed as the band’s first EP, a five-track collection of work titled Electromagnetism.
“Gone Fishin'” the EP’s first song, reeks of funk and uses melodies that could be stored in the same part of the brain as Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground.” But the band also creates music that strays far away from its genre and the world of funk.
“I always have trouble answering the question of what type of music we make,” Hughes said. “We make a lot of funk music, but I think labeling ourselves as one thing doesn’t encompass what we do as a band. It makes it too one dimensional, our style varies a lot from song to song.”
The song “RPM” exemplifies Hughes’ hesitation to be restricted to the world of funk. It starts with a long, synthesized buildup that invokes feelings of fluidity and paints a picture of an unknown outside world. It is spacey, ethereal music that sounds like it belongs in outer space, and appropriately so being a song on an album called Electromagnetism with album art of an extraterrestrial scene featuring a boundless galaxy, the jagged rocks of a distant planet, and a bright surge of energy illuminating a well-placed lil’ elephant. The song transitions and the keyboard takes over with a similar, spacey melody soon to be layered with guitar, bass and drums. Soon there are vocals and distorted, grunge guitar. The lyrics verbalize the embedded theme of the struggle to understand.
“I dream in shapes and colors and I think I understand / I see you lookin’ at me through the mirror and you see me lookin’ back / and now I’m lost again I just don’t understand / How the world within my mirror takes the world I live in fear of / And turns it all around again I think I understand / If I sit and wait and watch it maybe I’ll learn something new.”
Lil’ Elephant will also showcase its music at a few other upcoming performances including an Aug. 6 show at The Uptown Nightclub in Oakland and an Aug. 30 show at the California Jazz Conservatory in Berkeley. The band also pioneered its very own event; The Ice Cream Show-cial. This year’s show-cial will be on Aug. 23 at the Starry Plough in Berkeley.
“It is exactly what it sounds like,” Hughes said. “It’s just an opportunity for people to get some free ice cream, listen to music, and kick it. I think it’s something anyone can get excited for.”
Lil’ Elephant is in the process of working on its second album, which will be titled Gravity. But for now at least, the band seems to have less connection with our known earth and more about what we don’t know; whatever else there is. For Lil’ Elephant, our sky is not the limit.
300 Lakeside Roof Garden Concert Series
The free 300 Lakeside Roof Garden concert series has featured various Bay Area artists at the elevated garden venue.
Remaining performances in the summer-long series include: the GroWiser Band on Aug. 16, The 415’s on Aug. 23, Atta Kid on Sep. 6, and Hella Fitzgerald on Sep. 13. All performances start at 12 p.m. and wrap up around 1 p.m.
Concert goers can access the Lakeside Roof Garden by pressing the “RG” button in any Kaiser garage elevator or via elevators in the Kaiser building’s second-floor pedestrian bridge.