* * * *
EOTO (End Of Time Observatory) is the new side project from String Cheese drummers Michael Travis and Jason Hann. The two of them have been touring in support of their album Elephants Only Talk Occasionally, and i caught them at the ever comfortable Cabooze in Minneapolis on that historic night when LeBron James dropped 48 on the Pistons in the Eastern Conference Finals.
The most recent member of SCI, Jason Hann was brought on board two winters ago to play percussion, complimenting Travis in the rhythm section. In this new outfit, Hann takes his seat with the kit and shows his versatility as a drummer.
Travis on the other hand, stands amidst a veritable playhouse of music-making machines. He has a keyboard and some bongos, bass and electric guitars and a variety of creative-noise makers, not to mention the two Apple laptops he uses to sync and loop all the sounds together.
As a two-man gig, the looping is key, as Travis controls the recording to create layers of sounds that build and build and breakdown and blow up and drop back in, right on time. The show at the Cabooze was 2+ hours of non-stop electro-funk. My shirt was well soaked with sweat after less than an hour and i was drenched head-to-toe by the time they made us leave. Tom and i got lucky because, for whatever reason, there were more than the usual proportion of good-looking girls there, and they kind of, well, they surrounded us, which of course always makes it more fun.
But listen, this shit is funky. Travis laid it down on the bass and picked out clever licks on the piano, laying down a tonal base over Jason's original rhythms. But most surprising was Travis' skills on the guitar. His sound was reminiscent of Kang's (Michael Kang, SCI guitar/mando) high-pitched twang, but Travis kept his discipline and avoided the at-times-pointless noodling Kang gets caught up in. His riffs were generally rather simple, but well-timed and on point, adding to the hysteria of the improvised party beats.
Oh right, it will be important to mention that everything EOTO does is improvised. You would never know it just by listening, but apparently they don't write a thing, and just make it up as they go along. We had a chance to talk to Jason after the show, and Tom was conscious enough to ask him how they communicate, and he explained a series of simple hand signals he and Travis exchange: a thumb up or down for a jump in key, some head movements indicating a change in tempo, and a lot of eye contact and careful listening.
Though most of the show was high-energy, the two musicians are intelligent enough to manage a show and provide some variety. I'm thinking specifically of the encore, though there were other slower paced moments throughout the evening. The encore, which lasted no less than 15 minutes, grew smoothly into some slow-rolling funk; low-down throbbing and blues-y cadences, so deep and slow you could barely move but had to.
Although it's sad that the stinky Cheese will be the cause of no more Incidents, it's exciting to see how easily this side project has sprung up. This combo pumped out a rockin' dance party and appeared to be having (almost) as much fun as we were. If this is the only consequence of String Cheese leaving, then i think we're all gonna get by fine, just fine.