As the weekend wrapped up, The Troubadour began to fill for the second sold-out night headlined by EL VY, a side project of The National’s Matt Berninger and Brent Knopf of Menomena and Ramona Falls notoriety. KCRW has made sure listeners knew they thought the project was amazing, and they’re right…it really is great. In fact, both EL VY and Sunday’s opening act, Hibou, have their own unique sounds, and the combination of their creative energy and exciting tones resulted in a sold-out show that left the audience floored.
When Seattle’s Hibou took the stage at The Troubadour, the crowd was still coming in, but those who eventually packed the room were treated to a really great performance from a young band. The brainchild of 21-year-old Peter Michel (former drummer of Craft Spells who is officially moving on to better things), Hibou’s sound brings a youthful energy to an otherwise crowded genre of dreamy indie pop. That youth is perfectly embodied by Michel’s music stand on stage, which holds his vocal processor, a can of High Life, and a package of Top Ramen.
Though tracks supplemented each song in Hibou’s set (as a musician, this drives me crazy), it wasn’t distracting or overdone. The clear tones of the guitars shined with a warm and bright, atmospheric haze as they harmonized and washed in and out. Overall their set was dreamy while keeping the songs driving forward and building steadily throughout. I wouldn’t want to compare them to a band like Finch or Say Anything, but several moments recalled the same emotional intensity as those acts, creating a soundscape that drew the crowd in more and more. Their self-titled debut has found a consistent spot in my musical rotation, shuffling places with EL VY.
The crowd definitely loved Hibou, but most were at The Troubadour to see EL VY. After catching The National at a larger venue, I knew it would be special to see Matt Berninger in a club setting, and EL VY did not disappoint. Berninger has a dry wit about him that many singers can’t pull off. He started the show making a joke about how Brent Knopf told him to banter until he got “the signal,” then nodded to start the show’s dark and raw set.
EL VY features Berninger’s signature baritone vocals and brilliantly dark and poetic lyrics, but outside of the blanket term “indie rock,” the project shares little else with The National. Knopf provides sharp and honest guitar tones in a way that both stands out and complements the rest of the music perfectly. Though audiences will automatically connect to Berninger’s unmistakable vocals, Knopf’s array of guitars and keys are the true sound of this band.
Any time a side project like this headlines a show, it’s almost required they do a cover (if you have 40 minutes of material and an hour set, you can’t have a 15 minutes break before an encore, right?). I’d say that EL VY’s cover of Fine Young Cannibals’ “She Drives Me Crazy” went over pretty well. Most people knew it and sang the chorus.
This was a solid show, overall, and Hibou was a great opener whose energetic songs won over an unsuspecting crowd. EL VY played everything off of their debut, Return To The Moon, which is sure to be on many top albums of the year lists, and to see such great performances in such an intimate space was really a treat.
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