Words by: Herschel Concepcion | Images by: Norman Sands
EOTO :: 10.04.08 :: Portage Theater :: Chicago, IL
In a small room located backstage at the Portage Theater in Chicago, I ask Jason Hann what exactly influenced him and Michael Travis to pursue the heavy, beat-based electronic dance music of EOTO. Hann is all smiles as he tells me about the impromptu jam sessions that occurred whenever he stayed at Travis' Colorado home.
|EOTO :: 10.04 :: Chicago|
"Whenever I was at his place, we just wanted to set up and play music after String Cheese practice," says Hann, who served as auxiliary percussionist for The String Cheese Incident from 2006 until the band's dissolution in 2007. Travis, SCI's drummer, would play bass and guitar during the sessions, while Hann handled the drum work.
What started out as loose jamming quickly evolved into something more. They began looping some of the instrumental work, which allowed them to add extra layers to the texture of their sound. "As we started getting into some other loops and different types of programs, then it became a thing where we were like, 'Wow, what we're doing lends itself really well to dance music, which we both like.' So, we kept aiming for that direction," Hann says. "And then eventually, one of the times we listened back to things that we were recording and we were like, 'Wow, that sounds really good, let's do it front of an audience.'"
And so it began. EOTO was formed and the duo hit the road, touring relentlessly across the country. They have spent the entire summer playing shows and festivals nationwide, and their stop this night has brought the boys to Chi-Town. This show, however, will be a little different - Hann and Travis will be joined by Michael Kang (electric mandolin, fiddle) and Kyle Hollingsworth (keyboards), both of whom are also former members of String Cheese.
The Portage Theater stands proudly amidst the urban chaos of Northwestern Chicago. Its aging façade is a stark reminder of the theater's glory days as a film house. Having been around since the 1920s, the Portage is a relic of a past era and has withstood the test of time to become somewhat of an artifact, a cultural time capsule that gives one a feeling of nostalgia within its elegant walls. The theater was closed for a five-year period in 2001, during which its interior was renovated and restored to its original splendor before reopening in 2006. Since then, the Portage continues to show classic films and has become home to The Silent Film Society of Chicago, in addition to hosting various other types of events such as funky electronic dance parties.
|Seeker :: 10.04 :: Chicago|
Seeker is already playing when I make my way into the auditorium. Standing off to the side of the stage, I look out over the crowd that is groovin' to the music of local boys Matt Sullivan (guitar), John Tashjian (keyboards), and Joe McKinney (drums). The band has a uniquely progressive rock sound, incorporating elements of both psychedelia and jazz into their instrumental work. As they settle into an extended jam I begin to hear the cracking of glowsticks as the Chicago critters begin to emerge. I look out over the sea of bobbing heads and dilated pupils. The crowd has achieved liftoff.
During Seeker's set I also notice a man painting on a canvas on the other side of the stage. I learn later that the artist's name is Oliver Vernon, and that he will remain until the end of the show, working diligently on the live piece. Vernon is a Brooklyn native who was invited to do the painting by Entheon Village, one of the two organizations tonight's show is raising funds for.
Entheon Village's website describes the Entheon project as "an effort to promote sustainable cultural re-evolution that heals relationships between the people of the earth and our planet. The mission of Entheon is to demonstrate a future in which sustainability, ecological responsibility, environmental stewardship, and meditative and mystical consciousness are a welcomed and integrated part of society, and where art, spirituality and creativity is central to that vision." It sounds like a noble cause, and I am happy to contribute to something that focuses on bringing attention to the strained relationship between mankind and the earth.
|Aaron Holstein - VibeSquaD :: 10.04 :: Chicago|
The other organization benefiting from tonight's fundraiser is Our Future Now, of which Michael Kang is a founding member. Our Future Now is similar to Entheon in that it promotes ecological awareness through a combination of art, science and the community. The organization works with artists and musicians to bring focus to the need for renewable energy sources and emphasizes the importance of environmental responsibility. Good work, Mr. Kang.
VibeSquaD is the second opener, and consists of a one-man party in the form of DJ Aaron Holstein, who also performs in Travis' band Zilla. VibeSquaD does his thing as plaster falls from the ceiling and onto the stage, shaken loose by the bass-heavy beats booming off the walls of the megaphone-shaped auditorium. There is no balcony level – just one large cavernous room vibrating from the thunderous sound system. The crowd loves it, and I can almost feel the energy in the room rising as the music works people into a dance frenzy.
|Michael Travis - EOTO :: 10.04|
It's a madhouse inside when EOTO takes the stage. There are flashy toys, hula hoops, people dancing in the aisles and critters in costumes groovin' through the crowd. The vibes are good here, and almost everyone I see has a smile on their face – though some look bug-eyed and confused. The freaks are out in force, and tonight is their night.
I take a swig of whiskey before making my way towards the front. I struggle to get up close so I can get some good footage, but the thick mess of people prevents me from getting closer than about 30 feet from the stage. Hann and Travis are working their magic now, weaving together an intricate web of beats and melodies that lulls the shoulder-to-shoulder crowd into a trance. They build it up slowly, drawing on years of experience with one of the greatest jam bands ever, and expertly craft their improvised jam.
Their sound is not typical of your run-of-the-mill electronic-based bands. What I like about EOTO's music is that it is constantly shifting. It starts with a single idea, a seed that quickly grows and develops into myriad of flavors for the ear. Their sound is eclectic, avant-garde and continuously evolving while maintaining its dance party backdrop as a platform for improvisation. The music is multilayered, incorporating both subtle as well as more pronounced elements in its rich texture of sounds. The solid beats keep you grounded while the psychedelic noises, which range from the mystical to the weird and creepy, toy with your head and keep you on your toes – all while avoiding the sinister trap of repetition.
Eventually, Kang and Hollingsworth take the stage amidst deafening cheers from the howling audience to join Hann and Travis. For a moment I am caught up in the collective energy and find myself lost in the madness surrounding me. Eventually it gets a bit cramped for comfort and I make my way towards the back to dance alongside a pretty girl I'd been drinking with earlier. I hang back there for a while, watching the band to see what the two guests will add to the mix.
|Kyle Hollingsworth - EOTO :: 10.04 :: Chicago|
With Kang and Hollingsworth the party gets taken to the next level. They sound almost like an electronic dance party version of Medeski, Martin, Scofield and Wood, mixed with a bit of STS9 and fueled by the undeniably heavy influence of String Cheese. I am hoping for a multitude of SCI covers – which doesn't happen (understandably) – but we are treated to the instrumentals "Galactic" and "Valley of the Jig."
The talent of these four gentlemen is undeniable. They work amazingly well together; their musicianship is of the highest caliber and the interplay between them is tight. They are very much a unit and seem to possess the almost psychic link that exists between bandmates who have played together for a long time. Their collective mindset allows them to switch directions instantaneously, which is key when performing improvised music.
Of course there's a part of me that wishes Bill Nershi and Keith Moseley were up onstage as well, and like most String Cheese fans I maintain the hope of one day seeing all the boys playing together again, but I am more than happy with what I'm seeing and hearing this night. And I appreciate the fact that Hann, Travis, Kang, Hollingsworth, Nershi and Moseley are all pursuing their own musical interests, yet still find the time to sit in as guests with each other's projects. It's good to see that the former members of SCI are exploring other avenues of music and experimenting with different sounds; then perhaps someday – maybe, just maybe – they will bring it all back together and take us higher than ever before.
EOTO w/ Kang and Hollingsworth - 10/04/08
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