Club d’Elf: Boston’s finest jam band

From left to right: Dean Johnston (drums), Mike Rivard (bass), Randy Roos (guitar), Mister Rourke (turntables). Not pictured: Paul Schultheis (keys). This was at “Press Room” in Portsmouth, NH. Photo courtesy of James Cerone (He/Him)/ Mass Media Staff. 

From left to right: Dean Johnston (drums), Mike Rivard (bass), Randy Roos (guitar), Mister Rourke (turntables). Not pictured: Paul Schultheis (keys). This was at “Press Room” in Portsmouth, NH. Photo courtesy of James Cerone (He/Him)/ Mass Media Staff. 

James Cerone, Opinions Editor

No doubt readers will have heard of an elf, but what about a d’Elf? Probably not. Readers may have heard about Club d’Elf, probably Boston’s finest jam band for just about 25 years. This group of musical magicians are on their 25th anniversary tour, and there’s no better opportunity than now to see them at their absolute best. 

So, what is Club d’Elf? It’s much more than just a jam band. Their unique blend of jazz, blues, psychedelia, Moroccan traditional music and electronica is like nothing you’ve ever heard. The lineup varies almost night to night—their website lists over a hundred different musicians who have sat in with d’Elf. But the “core group,” as band founder and leader Mike Rivard calls it, currently consists of himself on bass, Dean Johnston on drums, Brahim Fribgane on the oud—essentially a Persian lute—and Mister Rourke on turntables. 

Yes, that’s right; bass, drums, oud and turntables. This is indeed a band like no other. The lineup almost always includes a guitarist and a keyboardist as well. Mike Rivard mostly plays electric bass but will often bring out a sintir—a three-stringed, acoustic bass related to a banjo—for a unique, drone-like sound. 

Mike—who sometimes goes by the name “Micro Vard”is the Frank Zappa of the group. He is both the mastermind and conductor, simultaneously. Watching the band onstage with Mike subtly cuing in his bandmates, and everyone focused in so intensely on each other, is almost as trance-inducing as the music itself. They have studio albums of course, but for the real d’Elf experience, their live shows are essential—especially seeing them in-person. 

The music itself flows like a river, with each musician blending in and out of the foreground and the rhythm section laying down a constant, groovy foundation for the improvisation inherent to every show. The ethereal sounds that Mister Rourke projects from his station churn and flow through each song, until Mike gives the cue for Rourke to punctuate a lengthy, musical sentence with a record-scratching solo or a perfectly thematic vocal sample. While Mike is certainly the brainchild and conductor, his philosophy—the d’Elf philosophy—is to let the other musicians shine.

This isn’t to say that their music is pure, ethereal trance. Groove is the name of the Club d’Elf game, and it’s nearly impossible to stop tapping a foot to the deep, swinging grooves they craft at the very least. With each change in lineup or new guest member, their sound rearranges to fit what that lineup brings to the tableAt a recent show at the Narrows Center for the Arts in Fall River, Duke Levine—returning member of Club d’Elflaid down some seriously groovy guitar licks and brought a downright bluesy feel to the whole show. 

The audiences vary from young college students—often from Berklee—to old Deadheads and townies who have followed the d’Elf lineups since their inception in 1998. Either way, the crowd will be filled with some of the kindest, most passionate people you’ll ever meet. Speaking of Deadheads, the recent show at the Narrows Center for the Arts was a collaboration with a showing of original print Grateful Dead posters; Club d’Elf shows are often paired with other, cool and complimentary programs to check out. 

Make no mistake about their traveling nature—Boston is undoubtedly their home ground. They began their whole saga here at Boston’s famous Lizard Lounge, and they’ve had a residency at the club for almost their entire history. While performing at the Lounge, Mark Sandman of the beloved, Boston-grown band Morphine was supposedly the one who encouraged Rivard to form his own group. Catching them here is probably the greatest way to see them at their absolute best. However, their regular residency has evidently not resumed post-pandemic, so make sure to keep an eye on the Lizard Lounge for any upcoming shows. 

The remaining shows in their 25th anniversary tour will be held in Marlboro and Ithaca, New York, Newmarket, New Hampshire and Pembroke, Mass. While these locations may be a bit of a hike from Boston, it is well worth the trip. Either way, there are plenty of chances to see them closer to home into the indefinite future. 

So, if any reader has even a passing interest in live music, go see Club d’Elf—it’s pronounced “Delf” by the way. Boston has a lot of great hometown music to offer, but the d’Elf lineup, whatever it may be at any given moment, is always among the very finest.