As the ballooning crowd funneled through the double doors, oblivious to the separate entrance through George’s Food and Drink, Liquid Stranger was womping his way through an extensive set that saw him sampling everything from Coldplay to hip hop. The bass gargled from what sounded like an underwater PA. Before kicking off the last few tracks of his set, he opened a rapport with the crowd, getting them warmed up for the String Cheese Incident’s pair of percussionists who play from the confines of a large, breathing lotus flower. “I’ve been holding back,” Liquid Stranger said before launching into a raunchy beat that felt like it fit in one of the Matrix sequels.
It was around this time that I took a look around and noticed how empty the bar was, and how little enthusiasm squeaked out of the crowd when he mixed in the Ludacris staple, “Move Bitch.” Most hands were painted with the underage black Sharpie mark, and holding water bottles. They were kids. They were out of their parents’ homes for the night and celebrating life in a much different manner than the green clad boozers running amuck on the bricks of Pearl Street. They wore sparkling headbands and ranged from String Cheese hippies to bass heads, adorned with everything from tie-dyes to tight jeans tucked in behind the tongue of a pair of high-tops. Even Gumby was there with dilated pupils and a set of headphones around his neck.
When Michael Travis and Jason Hann entered their coexisting musical worlds within the lotus flower, the crowd naturally picked up. Travis stood facing the crowd, surrounded by keyboards, synthesizers, guitars, basses and MacBooks loaded with Ableton. Jason is sitting at an electrified drum kit wearing a headset that he freely chants into throughout the show, controlling pitch and sound through a multitude of IPads and other devices. Travis, the Colorado local, said hello, making sure to let us know that they’re an improvisational band before pushing buttons on his computers and perching over the synthesizers as we prepared to make the jump to light speed.
A dubstep groove parades around the room; rattling the floors, and joined by a series of lights that circle the room from different points, emanating streams of colors that rainbow over the audience. Balcony dwellers lean over the edge, poking their fingers through the vibrant waves. Once the lotus flower and backdrop came alive, and the lights soared overhead and in time with the music, it became apparent why these guys travel the road so often every year when String Cheese Incident isn’t touring.
Watching Michael Travis traverse his cubicle of sound is a pleasure in itself. Whether he’s on the synthesizers or looping bass and guitar as part of an overall building progress of a song from scratch, he’s a methodical mastermind of musical construction. When you look away from the stage, and happen to hear an instrument you don’t remember being used, chances are Travis is working up some of his motion potion that weaves and intertwines, forming layers to the overall track that he and Hann are endlessly building through the night.
The break beat havoc that Hann pours through his endless drumming is also something to marvel at. The consistency with which he and Travis unite is a site to see when comprehending that their performance is the music industry version of a farm to table restaurant. Being able to choose any particular mood or theme for the evening depending on the crowd and venue is special, and it appears the boys of EOTO take pleasure in orchestrating their brand of improv-electronic music.
Though a light show doesn’t make the music, it can certainly improve the overall aesthetics of a musical experience. With a projector placed above the front of house engineer and pointed at the lotus flower and stage backdrop, the lighting designer let loose graphics that looked like a screen saver on mushrooms. Even Hann’s kit was glowing. The laser light placement opened the show up to different dimensions, with two placed on the sides of the stage, lined up with another two hanging from the edge walls of the main room, and another two cans on the ceiling. This allowed the beams to grow around the perimeter of the room, forming thick streams in color coordination with the lotus and projector splashed backdrop.
From the balcony the laser beams shot around the room like neon spider webs, and the glitter of cell phones recording videos made for an interesting view. While it could be too much for some, it was just right for the raving fans gyrating to the robotic symphony of tones, samples and loops; wafting their hands in the international sign of dubstep (and a possible cousin to the fist pump).
It was around the time they sampled Isaac Hayes’ “Do Your Thing,” that the crowd momentum built to an all out high before mellowing out with a reggae dub groove and eventually bursting back into their hybrid identity with a number that sounded like tie fighters blasting their lasers on a scratched CD.
Jason and Travis still have EOTO going strong after seven years of improvisation in a field where new DJs come and go, but their ingenuity and exemplary handling of the weapons they have separate them from being just another dubstep act. It’s been fun seeing them since their inception and reassuring that there is no end in sight. I knew the night was a success when I overheard someone in the bathroom tell his friend, “Hey, at least we aren’t in a porta potty at Ultra.”