Friday August 14th was a night of firsts. I'd never been to Mishawaka, I'd never seen these bands all at the same show, and I'd never really talked to any of them.
First things first, we need to talk about the venue. Mishawaka feels like a vacation spot, or a playground for music lovers, and is definitely not the kind of venue you can find just anywhere. After recently moving to Denver from Kansas City, and having been to concert venues all over the midwest, I can assure you that it is both unique, and just uncommonly cool. The rocks under your feet remind you of those at your old elementary school playground. The water flowing behind the stage and the mountains on either side function much like a vacation destination, focusing your mind entirely on the situation at hand: great music in one of the most beautiful locations that a concert can be performed in.
The first band member I had a chance to chat with was Michael Travis, String Cheese drummer turned tonal engineer of EOTO. My first question was about their name (EOTO - End Of Time Observatory) and its relevance. He summed it up with an almost perfect quote - "Time is not a mandate, it's a suggestion. And if we choose, we can step outside and just watch beyond the drama." After that, an existential conversation ensued and we eventually drifted back to the original subject - electronic music. And Travis has a unique perspective, since he has toured the country performing 200 shows a year as both an electronic musician, and as the drummer of SCI, a band with traditional jam band instrumentation. "Rock instruments are confined to a static sonic identity. With a guitar, or bass, or organ, you can't dial in the exact mood you're trying to convey like you can with electronic instruments. You can approximate it, but a guitar still sounds like a guitar, and a bass still sounds like a bass. But new electronic sounds are being created everyday. It's almost like chasing the dragon, there's this perpetual motion of new sounds and new instruments." There was much more discussed, including the greatness of the Flaming Lips and Jeff Buckley's take on "Hallelujah," and if you ever have a chance to talk with Michael Travis I strongly suggest that you do so.
After grabbing a drink and taking in the first few tunes of Big Gigantic's set that would've lit the world on fire if not for the slight drizzle coming down on the venue, I seeked out Aaron Holstein aka Vibesquad. Aaron is quite possibly the nicest superstar DJ on the planet. We talked about his musical career, from playing jazz guitar on the east coast and studying with Yusef Lateef all the way up to his personally collected library of over 100,000 musical samples. He's sampled everything from keyboards and synth instruments to construction sounds such as turning screws and hammer claps at home depot, all in an effort to create the exact sonic landscape he has in his head. And one thing he has in common with EOTO is that he is both an electronic musician and a traditional instrumentalist (he describes himself as a "recovering guitar player"). With his experience as a live musician and live music fan, he is much more aware of dynamics, performance, and musicality in general than your average performing DJ. If you've seen Vibesquad before, you know exactly what I'm talking about. He brings new material every week, and has a way of conveying exactly what he's going for through his performances. And most of the time he's trying to convey the funkiest music on this planet, or any other planet for that matter.
Now I've seen both EOTO and Vibesquad multiple times, and I always leave feeling inspired and slightly happier than I was before, but I've come to expect that. Big Gigantic (made up of multi-instrumentalist Dominic Lalli and drummer Jeremy Salken) on the other hand, I had not seen live before Friday night. I'd been bumping their free album "Fire It Up," which I downloaded off of their website. But, just as is always the case with talented musicians, they were better live. The band walked out on stage confident and excited, and slightly faster than one usually walks to work. The first sound Dominic plays is an electro-siren of sorts, which alerts the crowd, preparing them for the dance party that is about to ensue, and ensue it does. Next thing I know, I'm dancing at a level that normally I have to be at least four drinks deep to reach. Dominic told me after the set that one of the most important aspects of Big Gigantic's music is melody. He wants to be able to convey melody without vocals. He wants people singing his songs as they leave the show. I later found myself singing the title track off of "Fire It Up" in the car on the way home, so I guess Dom could say mission accomplished.
I could easily rave about the high quality, inescapably funky dance music I took part in at Mishawaka last Friday, but I won't. Because until you get out and see all of these bands, a review of their show is almost meaningless. EOTO, Vibesquad, and Big Gigantic will all be on the road this fall. If you want a review, go see them.
Matt Hill is a Colorado-based musician. He tours the country with The Floozies, a live-looping duo featuring him and his brother Mark.