The show on Tuesday night had the atmosphere of a homecoming, even though it was only EL VY’s second show. Even the tickets reflected the casual nature of the evening, as it described the group as “a collaboration between The National’s Matt Berninger and Me.” The “Me” of course refers to local musician Brent Knopf, who has previously delighted Portland music fans with his previous work in Menomena as well as his solo effort as Ramona Falls, and now makes up the other half of this indie rock “supergroup”. While there were a couple of issues in making the transition from recording project to a functioning live act, they were only minor speed bumps during an otherwise entertaining show.
The band’s debut album Return to the Moon had only been released on Friday, and I am sure there were many in the crowd that had not been able to listen to it in its entirety before the show (my copy only arrived the afternoon of the show, so I was only able to get through it once). Nevertheless, the audience remained enthusiastic throughout the night, even if they had no idea what to expect. The crowd did show their appreciation for the few songs that they did know, with a few even having learned enough of the lyrics to sing along for a bit. Songs like “Return to the Moon” and “I’m the Man to Be” had an extra pop to them and were highlights of the set, and one could easily see why they were shared in advance of the album.
The tone of the evening was very light and informal, and one could see that Matt enjoyed the break from the usual seriousness associated with his main gig. Matt had fun with Brent as he spent some time in-between songs trying to diagnose what exactly went wrong for a couple of measures, citing his own inability to remember his cue to sing for one and playfully arguing with Brent about how one of his chords caused him to overshoot on a vocal jump in another (and in the process showing the difference between recording alone to a track and singing with a live group). But for the most part, everything went as seamless as one could expect from a brand new group playing one of their first shows.
EL VY also enjoyed the opportunity to play with some of their friends, as local musician Ural Thomas joined in to help fill in some of the background vocals he provided on the album, along with opening act Moorea Masa. But perhaps the best moment of the night was when the group selected an out-of-leftfield cover, the massive Fine Young Cannibals hit “She Drives Me Crazy”. Matt opted to bring Roland Gift’s falsetto down a couple of octaves, but otherwise the band captured the song perfectly, to the delight of many in the crowd.
Opening act Hibou were quite impressive, veering from the quiet and languid music that recalled Deerhunter to more epic, bombastic rock that would fit in perfectly fine at an arena and not a basement club. Moorea Masa has a beautiful voice, and the delicate harmonies that she produced with her fellow vocalists brought to mind a female version of Fleet Foxes. I am looking forward to seeing both of these acts swing through town again.