It was a study in contrast Saturday night at the F Shed in Syracuse. Two bands took the stage, each playing their own electro-infused brand of instrumental rock. Two bands at the opposite poles of the same current. Listening to recordings of the bands, you might have a tough time discerning what is creating the sounds. Seeing the music created live on stage, could be an educational experience.
Opener El Ten Eleven, a bass and drums duo out of Southern California, is probably best known for their soundtracks of Gary Hustwit’s trilogy of popular design documentaries, Helvetica, Objectified and Urbanized. Like Explosions in the Sky with Friday Night Lights, behind those movies’ sound is a hard-working band with multiple albums and a penchant for wowing crowds with their memorable live performances.
Kristian Dunn, wielding either a double neck guitar and bass, or a fretless bass, has a massive bank of looping and effects pedals at his disposal, and Tim Fogarty with synthesized and standard drums in his kit, also makes use of looping and effects. Together they composed complex infectiously melodic rock nuggets, layering theme over theme over theme over impossible beats. The band of two becomes a quartet and increases in size and complexity, as the two humans are joined by their electronic echoes.
Playing for the first time in Syracuse, El Ten Eleven ran through an early-starting yet energetic 45 minute set that had most in the filling venue either jaws agape or grooving happily. For those intrigued or wanting more, Western New York gets a chance to see them at full power in small clubs next month, with shows at Mohawk Place in Buffalo and the Bug Jar in Rochester on February 26 and 27 respectively.
No stranger to Syracuse, headliner Lotus were the 1 to El Ten Eleven’s 0, or perhaps more accurately, the 01 00 to their 10 11. The quintet features Mike Rempel on guitar, Jesse Miller on bass and keys, Mike Greenfield on drums, Luke Miller on guitar and keyboards, and Chuck Morris on percussion. By their set time, the F Shed was fully packed and ready to party.
While their music isn’t devoid of looping, they make more sparse and subtle use of it than the front and center way El Ten Eleven employed it. Instead, Lotus relied more on their five strong lineup. The tunes were similarly electronic-leaning upbeat and catchy rock jams. With El Ten Eleven, the beauty lies in the creation and structure of the songs. With Lotus, on the other hand, the beauty comes when they broke through the song stucture. In tight four to six minute segments, El Ten Eleven ended their songs just as you were figuring them out. Lotus continued to explore a song until you couldn’t remember even where it began.
There were times when what Lotus was playing could sound very similar to what El Ten Eleven had laid down earlier in the evening. But the way that each band arrived at that point was very different. Whether it be Fogarty drumming on Dunn’s bass for that perfect rhythmic loop, or the Miller twins switching back and forth between synths, samples and guitars, each band took unique approaches to cull the exact landscapes they desired.
Like a genre super computer, Lotus pulled from funk, house, hip hop, jazz and more, concocting perfectly groovy and unique blends on the fly, that kept the young crowd in constant motion. The deeper and further they stretched it, the better it got. The band steered the music expertly through twists and turns, discovering sparks of energy around unexplored dark corners. Rempel’s thoughtful and blistering guitar work was a consistent highlight, but each member contributed heavily in impressive full band improvisations throughout the show’s two sets.
Lotus featured a spectacular light show. Color changing LED lanterns hung behind and in front of the stage and were also sprinkled around the musicians. Additionally, three different types of mobile LED lights lined the back, while additional lights lit up the ceiling above the band with moving patterns. The multi-dimensional lighting was able to match whatever the band was turning out, morphing the stage from song to song, jam to jam, note to note. All in all, it was plenty enough to turn a shed in the middle of a farmer’s market into a proper Saturday night dance party.
Set 1: Middle Road> Massif, Sunrain> Expired Slang> Sunrain, Pachyderm, Spiritualize
Set 2: Suitcases And Sandwiches, Basin to Benin, Neon Tubes, Soma, Eats the Light, Philly Hit> 128> Umbilical Moonset> 128
Encore: Behind Midwest Storefronts