Concert review: El Ten Eleven at the Orpheum (with pics)

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When a show is hyped up to me as being “one of the most phenomenal live acts you’ll ever see,” I usually have a degree of skepticism. Everyone’s idea of a badass live show is different, and it’s difficult to come into a show with such high expectations, especially from a band I am relatively unfamiliar with. El Ten Eleven was described as being such a show, and despite my cautious optimism they delivered on every level promised.

I arrived just in time to catch the last few songs from Auto Automatic. I was thoroughly impressed by what I saw when they opened for The Mercury Program, thinking that they have developed considerably since the last time I saw them perform. From what I saw it was another noteworthy performance, and their math rock instrumentalism was the perfect choice for an opening act.

Between sets I went over to the merch stand to talk with bassist and composer Kristian Dunn of El Ten Eleven. Dunn explained that on this tour they were developing a lot of new material for their next album. Four songs were recorded before they left home and they’ve been ironing out kinks and composing additional songs on stage as they travel the country. Dunn provided me with one of the most organized set lists I’ve ever seen, graciously labeled with the album each song came off. I was pleased to see a considerable amount of new material, mixed with plenty of my personal favorites off their last album These Promises are Being Videotaped, and enough older material to keep their loyal fans content.

By the time they started with “The Sycophants are Coming,” a new song, The Orpheum was packed with people who had wandered over after Arctic Monkeys surprisingly early set, clearly pumped full of British adrenaline that started everyone instantly dancing.  Thankfully it thinned out a bit as the show progressed, weeding out the giggly drunks and leaving the remaining spectators open mouthed and hypnotized by Dunn’s lightning fast hands and feet.

El Ten Eleven creates their songs by layering and looping endlessly, creating transparent and complex levels of sound on top on each other.  Dunn seamlessly alternated between a 1977 Carvin guitar/bass doubleneck and a truly stunning 2000 Wall fretless bass, at times playing the guitar and bass simultaneously, and even incorporating a bow into the array of sound. This was all while manipulating a truly overwhelming array of pedals and effects; his technique totally altering the basslines into something unexpected, alternately layering driving bass lines with effects looped over and over into a delicate web of danceable familiarity.

I found myself finally pulling my eyes away from Dunn when he stopped midsong (without so much as a pause in the melody) to take a drink. This allowed me to finally give drummer Tim Fogarty some attention, and once I did was hypnotized enough that it was difficult to refocus attention back on Dunn again. Fogarty is a phenomenal drummer, effortlessly keeping up with the changes in tempo and providing a solid framework for Dunn’s fascinating skills. A crowd pleasing moment was at the end of the song “3 + 4” when Fogarty got up from his drums, knelt in front of Dunn and played the bass with his drumsticks while Dunn tapped bass notes and played open strings on the guitar at the same time.

The new material certainly follows the dance electronica direction El Ten Eleven ventured into on Promises , yet it still flows seamlessly with their earlier style. Even a cover of Joy Division’s “Disorder” didn’t sound out of place, and was in fact, the high point of my evening.

It’s the first show I haven’t taken a photo at in quite a while; just too spellbound to even remember to take my camera out of my pocket. In any case, El Ten Eleven certainly put on a show that I would recommend anyone catch if given the opportunity; they’re definitely made my “don’t miss” list.

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