When I walked into the Rickshaw Stop last night, sadly late enough to miss both opening bands, it was pre-fogged, the upstairs was roped off, and about a hundred people milled about in anticipation. 30 or more of them were pushed up against the front of the stage, waiting, waiting.
ELEL (pronounced as it seems, “LL”) eased onto the stage under soothing cobalt and aqua lights. Their first song “Change My World” was like an initiation – welcoming, slow-building, grounding. Just as the beat would pick up, it would fall off into almost-silence, pause, and then leap back in with the pronounced and precise effort of the kick drum. By the end of the song each instrument had been introduced – from the wood block to the tenor sax, the bass, synths and reverb-laden guitar– the stage was set.
At this point, I was ready for the catharsis to begin and to be swept into a dancing frenzy, but it wasn’t until the third song that their hit “40 Watt” came out and the crowd jumped around like wild animals under the racing lights. And after “40 Watt” the band headed back into a series of slow to mid-tempo songs that, while building fantastically, with switching time signatures and layered instrumentation, left the longing to be cut free palpable in the room. By the last few songs (pre-encore), the release finally arrived.
“Kiss Kiss” started off with another impressive display from the drummer, hitting the high-hat fast enough to make me want to put the windows down and let the wind blow my hair– if I’d been in a car, of course, but you know the feeling. And actually, that feeling describes this whole song well: if I closed my eyes listening to it, I was flying above the speed limit along I-90 in South Dakota, pounding on my steering wheel in the bridge where everything but the percussion and vocals dropped out. This song is ripe to be a hit. And in the next song, “Eliska,” I finally put my finger on the one influence that I couldn’t place – in addition to the Arcade Fire styled emo-indie rock, new wave, and Paul Simon-esque pop sounds mixing and melding through their arrangements, a highlife vibe peeked out through the jazzy smooth, but grinding-toned saxophone, syncopated rhythms, and the band jumping and swaying together on the stage. The crowd jumped and swayed with them.
While I don’t imagine ELEL will be playing The Fillmore the next time they’re in town, they have a definite appeal and a sound of their own. I’ll be keeping a close eye on them with high hopes for good things yet to come.
They close out their tour tonight, April 2nd, in Los Angeles at the Bootleg HiFi Theatre, and then head home to Nashville. Check out their eponymous debut EP on Mom + Pop here.