It’s not just another Friday night in San Diego’s Ocean Beach neighborhood. The area generally has a hippie-haven vibe. Then add in the fact that tonight ‘s date, 11/11/11, has a highly anticipated metaphysical significance. Such a night needs a proper celebratory musical ritual and so the music gods have provided by bringing EOTO to town.
The electronica duo have staked a claim as masters of the dubstep movement. Featuring the increasingly popular bass wobble that fans have come to know describe as “womp womp”, EOTO have taken what was mainly a DJ sound and evolved it through live musicianship. The dubstep wars have been cranking up in 2011, with a glut of aspiring electronic artists jumping into a sonic field that seems increasingly over-saturated. But there’s a big difference between a single DJ spinning up sampled tricks he worked up in the studio versus Jedi musicians who create all of their sounds fresh each night. The latter is the case for Michael Travis and Jason Hann of EOTO.
The pair have been true road warriors since forming EOTO as a side project to their work as percussionists for the String Cheese Incident. There are few acts in music who have been logging more miles on the road these past few years than EOTO, and it’s clearly a labor of love. Travis became known as a superb drummer with SCI, but few realized how skilled he also is with bass, guitar and electronic synths until EOTO cranked up. Hann also shows more multi-dimensional skills in EOTO, moving from percussion to full drum kit, Ableton sampling and vocals.
It’s the Ableton software that enables Hann and Travis to create fresh samples on the fly each night, making each show an improvisatory adventure. The duo’s commitment to this principle also means they don’t really have a repertoire per se, as they’re always creating fresh jams each night rather than playing previously recorded songs. But it’s the mixture of the samples with the live instruments that energizes the music to achieve a deeper level of sonic intoxication. The skill and dedication necessary for such musical adventure is high, and this has led to EOTO’s growing reputation on the jamtronica scene as there’s a suspicious number of younger acts that sound like EOTO.
That reputation looks like it’s causing EOTO to outgrow Winston’s, because the tiny club has a capacity of only 198 and the place is truly packed. EOTO have generally been playing larger venues over the past year, but they must have a sentimental appreciation for Winston’s due to the great neighborhood it’s in. There’s all manner of head shops, record stores, bars and cafes just around the corner and it certainly is the hippest part of San Diego for anyone into the counterculture.
Travis and Hann hit the stage around 10:45 pm and the first thing that becomes apparent is that they are lacking the ultra-psychedelic light show they’d been touring with earlier in the year. It looks like the LED screen they had this past spring probably wouldn’t even fit on this stage. But Winston’s comes through with an old school disco ball which helps to conjure some of the missing psychedelia. The crowd is getting down from the beginning as EOTO throws down one slamming jam after another, with Hann powering the music on the drums while Travis throws in his now trademark mix of sonic tricks.
Elbow room is definitely at a premium though, which seems to keep the crowd from cutting loose as much as they might like. But party people will find the space wherever they can, so some of the best moves come from a trio of ladies who dance by the back bar—even though it’s a bit bright back there. You never know what kind of sonic flavors EOTO might dabble in, which is part of what makes each show a unique adventure. One of the peak moments of the first set comes with a jam where Travis employs some Middle Eastern-flavored melodies with a sitar sort of sound, creating a bluesy hypnotic trance vibe that pulls the crowd into a collective groove that grows deeper and deeper.
The set break offers a colorful scene outside the club, as a large number of patrons step out into the parking lot behind the venue for a smoke and/or toke. This provides an amusing moment when Bank of America customers who wish to use the adjacent drive-through ATM have to navigate through the smoking crowd, causing the smokers to slowly part like Moses navigating the Red Sea.
The groovy jams keep flowing in the second set, with everyone revitalized after getting some fresh air. The crowd has also thinned slightly, as usually seems to be the case for late night second sets at jam-oriented shows these days. EOTO have also carved out a rep for working teases of classic hits into some of their jams, blending retro sounds with their futuristic trance funk in crowd pleasing new ways. Such a moment occurs midway through the set when the duo hits on Tupac Shakur’s “California Love”. They’ve teased it before at previous shows but here Hann sings multiple verses, modifying the lyrics to include “San Diego knows how to party”, much to the delight of the locals. The tune receives an extended workout this time, with all present united under the groove of the classic anthem.
Such is the power of the adventurous music that seeks to blend multiple influences instead of just mining one narrow genre. EOTO have carved out a niche as masters at this groovy game and the sky would seem to be the limit for their musical adventures.