I wasn't planning on writing about the bands that we saw at East Side Hootnanny, or Musician's Corner at Centennial Park, simply because there would be so many of them. And, quite honestly, we weren't there solely for the music. We're still new in town, and those events felt like the perfect opportunities for us to get out and see how the people in the Nashville community interact with one another. Also, the quality of the music was hit or miss; not just in the songs being played, but also with how clearly those songs came out of the stage set ups, and how well we were able to hear them depending on where we sat. However, all of these elements converged on the last night of the Hootnanny this past weekend, and Sarah and I heard who we both agreed was the best band of the bunch: El El.
Taken as individual pieces, the folks that make up El El seem like they belong in their own genres. While in sound check, the horn section -- made up of two guys and what seemed like six or seven various horn/percussive instruments, depending on the song -- sounded jazzy and smooth, but punctuated with energy. Then there were the three keyboards that lined the front of the stage, all helmed by similarly folksy looking young men wearing slim shirts in various bright colors and stylish headgear (as seen in the picture at the front of this post). And of course, there was the soft-spoken yet engaging bassist, the only female of the group, who acted, by virtue of her instrument, as the glue that held their sound together. These unique characters came together, though, into a unified whole that moved in sync throughout each song -- both musically and physically, often dancing around on stage as if they were actually playing in the middle of the dance floor.
As intriguing as the musicians of El El are, what really made me pay attention was the music. With soft, melodic, semi-falsetto vocals that reminded me at times of Sufjan Stevens, the lead singer sang sometimes smoothly, leaving notes to hang, and sometimes in rhythmic cadence, matching and complementing the percussion. The guitars and pianos were played commandingly, again often in beats that either complemented or fell in line with the underlying beat. The horn section at the back of the stage punctuated most of the songs with perfectly paced riffs that rose and fell at just the right times, often falling back to let the groove of the song take over when necessary. The drummer, too, knew when to flourish and when to just keep time, a quality I've always considered to be the mark of a great drummer: the ability to appear only when necessary and otherwise be nearly invisible, blended into the spirit of the song as a whole. And, finally, one could not talk about El El without mentioning the tinkle of the triangle that pierced certain, perfect moments of several songs, and even rose as the last, high-pitched period to end a few.
All of the pieces of the band, as with all of the musicians that make it up, fit together in a grooving, moving beast that is as infectious and memorable as any band I've heard recently. And as easy as it is to take for granted that musicians and bands like this do exist, and sometimes we even get to see them for free here in Nashville, it's impossible to ignore the kind of harmony of parts that brings and keeps together a band like El El. They are what makes this town so great, and what makes me so grateful to live in place that calls one of their shows just a typical Saturday afternoon in July. We'll be keeping an eye on these guys (and gal), and you should too.
For more information about El El, visit their Facebook page or elelmusic.com.