EL VY w/ Hibou
Neumos, Seattle, WA
“We have no prepared remarks so we’re just gonna start playing. Check out these lights,” said Matt Berninger, one half of EL VY – along with cohort Brent Knopf (of Portland’s Ramona Falls, Menomena) – as the collaborators took to the Neumos stage. For the sold out show, only the third night on their first tour, EL VY invited us into their art project. Smoke billowed through the room, two projectors throwing rainbows of carefully orchestrated lights across the stage. Berninger, dressed in all white, commanded front and center, coved in by the band, similarly dressed in crisp white shirts and dark pants.
They kicked off the set with “Careless,” the last track of their album Return To The Moon, it’s pleading “I don’t know what you want from me” the perfect transition from Berninger’s oeuvre with the National, showcasing his classic, scratchy baritone. Matched with Knopf’s virtuosic production skills, the pair have come up with an album that is basically a dark-pop leaning mashup of their individual sounds. The EL VY collaboration, side project if you will, has apparently been happening for years, as Knopf would send Berninger bits and pieces of musical fodder that he would then craft lyrics for, whatever little pop-tinged bits he took a fancy to.
And Berninger’s lyrics are – or can be – hilarious. There is a tongue-in-cheek darkness to his writing, subversive storylines aplenty, and watching him sing them live is incredible. He comes off more buoyant than he does with the National, moving more, dancing even. It’s a treat to see him up close, leaning over the crowd, straddling a mic stand, emphatically illustrative with his movements as he sings. “Happiness, Missouri” an upbeat earworm of a song, sees him bounding all over the stage.
Accompanied for the tour by Matt Sheehy of Portland’s Lost Lander on bass & Andy Stack of Baltimore’s Wye Oak on drums, the twosome of EL VY have created a full soundscape, stacking the deck with obvious talent. They delivered the entirety of their debut album, plus a surprisingly great cover of Fine Young Cannibals’ 80’s hit “She Drives Me Crazy.” Knopf himself was quiet, but musically brilliant, working keys, guitar, et al, throughout the show. While some might say that the album doesn’t choose an overall road – swaying from glam-rock to forlorn, misanthropic entreaties – the individual tracks, especially performed live, take on a cohesion held together almost entirely by that exacting individuality and the quality of their performers.
They closed the show with the booze-soaked alt-rocker “Need a Friend,” Berninger tearing the mic from its stand and practically begging the crowd with “you were supposed to be here before the last song, you were supposed to bring me your brother’s weed” before the final cries of “this is heartbreaking” and proceeding to shake a few appreciative hands in the front row.
It’s interesting to watch as Berninger and Knopf make an unusually heavy social media and PR presence for this release. They’ve been blowing up the internet, Berninger “Facebooking” live with a droll responsiveness, Knopf leaving utterly comedic comments on said Facebook posts. It’s far too early to know where the project will lead. Is it a one-hit wonder? Will there be more? For now, if you’re lucky enough, you’ll find yourself a ticket.
Local band Hibou (pronounced ‘eee-boo’) opened the show for the West Coast run. The alias of local singer-songwriter Peter Michel, Hibou delivered driving 80’s influenced surf rock, in all its quirky glory. The self-titled debut LP was just released on Barsuk Records, and it’s definitely worth a listen. Make sure to catch him live for an infectious dose of nu-wave electronics and kicking guitars.
EL VY Set List
It’s a Game
Silent Ivy Hotel
Return to the Moon
Paul Is Alive
I’m the Man to Be
She Drives Me Crazy (Fine Young Cannibals cover)
No Time to Crank the Sun
Need a Friend
Review by Stephanie Dore
Photos by Sunny Martini