Anticipation and expectations are a bitch. Show reviews of a 100% improvisational duo are bound to be subjective and filled with blinding superlatives while trying to juxtapose the latest trends, memes, and descriptions that can only make you feel like you shouldn’t be worthy of living because you missed the show. I’ll try to spare you from this, and provide some background and details on a great night by EOTO at a classic Michigan Venue.
Chances are, the readers here are based in the Southeastern US, where EOTO’s partners in crime SCI recently pulled off a completely ludicrous Hulaween Incident. They are also aware of the prowess yielded by the percussion section of their counterparts. I bore witness this summer to the artful integration of EOTO’s sound into SCI at Red Rocks and Hornings Hideout and appropriated the term “Untz-grass”(I guess Bill Nershi is calling it Grass-tronica!) as the only way to describe it’s growing presence in a traditional jam band. These guys were literally crushing it with a sound that seemed to defy clear explanation. All I know is that they’ve genetically and experimentally searched and found ways to create sounds that elicit physical response. Drum beats that they have created are the key to their ability to create emotion, rage, insanity, and chaos. It’s dubstep. It’s house. It’s Jason sampling his voice at 4X speed, making a rap out of it, and looping it, while Michael is playing a scimtar in his bare feet with 50K of computers in front of him and more buttons that I honestly believe one could ever figure out.
If you had to pick a show based on a venue, the Blind Pig is one that you’d probably not think about attending. Situated on the outer block of the main downtown area in Ann Arbor, Michigan, the cramped and dingy venue’s history as a house of rock is as legendary as they come. An upstairs area for the green room bears stickers, graffiti and the stains only received after being ridden hard and put away wet since 1971, and has seen the likes of Joan Baez, Bo Diddley and George Thoroughgood. I’ve been seeing shows there for ages and nothing short of a biohazard sign would shock the reader as having happened there. Cross-dressing drag queens slither down the alley to the “Eight Ball” bar below, and homeless take a relentless approach to asking every single smoking patron standing outside for a quarter. There’s no photo pit, there’s no rail. If you’d like to stand 3’ away from Hann while he whips his drums, a quick trip up the wall and you’re there; it doesn’t get more intimate than this. I watched a guy shooting video with a DSLR step up onto the stage straddling the monitor, then decide since he was already up there he’d just walk around. The tour manager was nice about it, he was probably five feet away shaking his head. One spunion decided that the monitors looked comfy and decided to lay down ON TOP of them, just to feel the beat. And within about six minutes of starting, EOTO had a packed house bouncing, raging and sweating. Powerful stuff these guys create.
The highlight of any show for me is watching a band or individual take a chance. EOTO has the ability to do this at every second. What I find odd about the entire show, is the lack of apparent signaling or cues – they’re both completely absorbed in their own worlds, weaving so intricately into and out of one another’s playing that at some point, you look at the cymbal when it’s hit just to make sure you know where it’s coming from. This is improvisational music taken to a completely different level.
After taking shots at the only four accessible angles (top of stairs, bottom of stairs, stage right, and at Travis’s feet I found a subwoofer to lean against of my own and watched intently as the opening band Garganta’s fabulous lighting crew ran foggers, lasers, video projectors, and intelligent mini-beams that would have looked great in a venue three times the size. In an instrumental arrangement like theirs, I always find the most joy in the audio samples of their voices, used sparingly as hiccups, their own break-beats and glitches turned from voice into pure electronic sound.
An extremely long set break most likely recharged Michael and Jason’s batteries. I think I heard that they’re doing 30 shows in 33 days. Their tour bus broke down in Grand Rapids the night before, prompting a call to a local Grand Rapids band Ultraviolet HIppopotamus, startling guitar player Brian Samuels. Evidently he’d never received a call from Michael Travis on a Monday morning asking if he could get a ride to Ann Arbor. I suggested to Brian he should have them sign the bus, which would probably double it’s value, but he was happy with the opportunity to show some Michigan love to a fellow artist, even going so far as to connect him with the Macpodz’ Jesse Clayton for a place to crash. Damn those Hippos are adorable.
Second set I managed to get up to the second row, giving me enough room to wedge myself up against a wall and ride the wave of energy in the crowd. There would be no convincing of these kids that I needed to grab “just one shot” – they’d been the ones laying on the amps. They were three deep in the first row and looked ready to kick ass and throw glow sticks. And I was all out of glow sticks. The fans completely adored EOTO, and screamed for more. As closing time neared, Michael and Jason left us in awe yet again, and wanting more.
Set list will most likely be available soon at Livedownloads.com. Highlight for me was Michael playing his scimtar in his bare feet with Jason making Japanese baby noises and turning them into beats – not quite what I expected, but just like every EOTO show I’ve had the pleasure to attend, it’s the unexpected that keeps me coming back for more.