With The National on a break for the time being – possibly until 2017 at the earliest if recent reports are to be believed – this performance from Matt Berninger’s side-project with Ramona Falls and Menomena‘s Brent Knopf, EL VY, is the closest possible thing to fill the void left by the quintet and as such, their two shows at the Electric Ballroom, part of a blink-and-you’ll-miss it European tour, are sell-outs. They’re far from a satisfying but insubstantial replacement, though: their début, Return To The Moon, was a breezy and gnarly collection of songs with a tonne of gut-wrenching emotion, and they deserve to be treated seriously as their own artistic entity.
The hour long performance itself is one that takes its time, purposefully unwilling to come out all guns blazing. Their first two songs, Careless and It’s A Game are gentle and tender, with the band submerged in very low lighting. It’s unclear whether or not there are actual things being projected onto the band members (at one point, binary codes can clearly be seen on the back of Berninger’s shirt), but it helps to set the scene.
The second half of the set, with the exception of an otherwise beautiful rendition of No Time To Crank The Sun, is where the sparks truly fly. Following the bluesy Silent Ivy Hotel, Return To The Moon signals an increase in energy that is matched by I’m The Man To Be, dripping with lust. Despite having no extra non-album material, they manage to add a rousing rendition of She Drives Me Crazy by Fine Young Cannibals into the mix, which is a joy to behold.
With multi-instrumentalist Knopf happy to focus on the job at hand, the way is paved for Berninger to be the true star of the show. If you’ve seen The National before, you’ll know what you are getting, but seeing him do his thing in such an intimate setting is downright thrilling. He prowls around the tiny stage and clutches the microphone like his life depended on it, before hammering it into the ground. It gets more and more intense until the final release of pent-up frustration during Need A Friend’s refrain (“this is heartbreaking, heartbreaking, heartbreaking, heartbreaking”). With the microphone hurled onto the ground, the job is done. It really is hard to dispute that he is one of indie rock’s most enthralling singers.
Whether or not EL VY remains a long-term proposition for Berninger and Knopf, this show will last long in the memory. It is short, but the crowd is desperate for more (rather pleasingly, there are no shout outs for any non-EL VY material) and would clearly lap up the opportunity to enjoy more music by the duo.