EL VY Shoots for the Moon
Side project of The National’s lead singer Matt Berninger will play at Turner Hall.
On my 26th birthday in 2011 I was on a plane to Toronto with hopes of landing a job and an apartment. If that failed–which it did–at least I had a pair of tickets to see The National at the Air Canada Centre. It turned out to be the Cincinnati-born, Brooklyn-based band’s first arena show. A limited number of tickets were sold for the floor area, which left it less than half-full, while most of us were up in the seats. Lead singer Matt Berninger did not like this dynamic.
“We’re used to playing rock and roll clubs and theaters, so this is weird that there’s barely anyone on the floor and most of you are so far away. I’m VIP, so I have the authority to bring some of you down,” he told the crowd. Then Berninger jumped off the stage and into the seats, waving people onto the floor. A flood of us rushed down before security tightened around the perimeter of the floor. The stunt was met with huge cheers.
After their next song Berninger said that he had been scolded and we should all go back to our seats. But nobody budged and security didn’t do anything else. The bold act made Berninger even more of a rock star in our eyes. This Friday night at Turner Hall there will be no such issues for the Milwaukee debut of Berninger’s side project EL VY, as the standing-room only ballroom is nearly sold out.
The collaboration with Brent Knopf, a Portland-based producer who plays in the band Ramona Falls, has been a decade in the making. Berninger and Knopf met well before The National was playing arenas and headlining music festivals, during a West Coast tour of small, half-empty clubs with Knopf’s old band, Menomena. For years the project only existed on Berninger’s computer in a folder called “The Moon,” made up of files Knopf sent him from time to time.
EL VY’s excellent lead single, “Return to the Moon (Political Song for Didi Bloome to Sing, with Crescendo),” is an interesting departure from the moody, driving indie-rock of The National. Where his flagship band’s material is lush and layered, EL VY finds Berninger’s signature baritone over simpler, more danceable production. The album, also called Return to the Moon, was met with mixed reviews. The AV Club loved it, but Pitchfork was lukewarm to say the least. The National are indie-rock darlings, critics’ favorites, so I’m not surprised Pitchfork decided to take Berninger down a peg. They are notoriously overparticular and harsh.
My feelings about EL VY might be biased. I’m a big fan of The National and Berninger in particular. Mistaken for Strangers, a 2014 documentary about The National made by Matt’s little brother Tom Berninger, cemented his status among the upper echelon of brilliant (and surly) bandleaders. I secured tickets to the Turner Hall show before I even heard Return to the Moon, but it turned out to be a very enjoyable album. It has some great songs ranging from bouncy, electro-folk to distorted, guitar-heavy indie-rock, employing healthy doses of synths and syncopated drums. Standouts include the title track, “Need a Friend,” “It’s A Game,” “Sleeping Light,” and “Happiness, Missouri.”
If you’re going to the Turner Hall show expecting to hear The National material, you will be disappointed. (Early reviews of the EL VY tour report that they are doing at least one cover, but not of Berninger’s main band.) That said, it’s still a unique opportunity to see a certified rock star in a relatively intimate venue. Opening for EL VY will be 4AD labelmate Søren Juul, a Danish singer-songwriter who previously recorded under the moniker Indians.
Click here for tickets and more information.