EOTO: 7 December 2013 - Denver, CO

[20 January 2014]

By Greg M. Schwartz

Contributing Editor

Dubstep duo cranks up the womp womp for tour closer

2012 has come and gone and now 2013 is a memory as well. One thing the current era will be remembered for is how the Denver music scene has surged to challenge New York, LA, or Austin for the top live music scene in the country. Not only does Colorado have great rock and bluegrass scenes, it’s also been ground zero in the EDM explosion (electronic dance music.)

EOTO (End of Time Observatory) has been the pioneering force. The electronica duo of Michael Travis and Jason Hann (members of the String Cheese Incident) have toured the nation relentlessly over the past five plus years to bring their improvised dubstep dance grooves to the public. That same period has seen the rise of EDM as a cultural force. EOTO has played a significant role in demonstrating how the use of live instrumentation and improvisation can elevate EDM to a higher level of artistic merit.

Hann has described EOTO’s sound as “a live improvised alien disco party” and that vibe of cosmic trance dance space funk has been a key attraction. With Hann on drums and Travis improvising on everything from guitar and bass to synths, samplers and more percussion, the duo has developed a uniquely groovy sound which jams in a way most DJs can’t do with pre-recorded music. Yet there’s some dissension in the air in 2013, with locals warning that EOTO’s sound has changed over the past years. Critics have denounced the duo for moving into a more electronic, crunkier direction lacking the instrumentally-inspired jams which previously constituted a large part of EOTO’s attraction. But in a heady town like Denver, jaded vets making judgements on the scene are inescapable.

The Denver Fillmore might be a draw as attractive as the EOTO performance. A slew of new Fillmores have opened in recent years around the nation. Skeptics are critical whether these venues are worthy to share the same name. The original Fillmore in San Francisco isn’t just a great music venue, it has a legendary musical history and a notable fan-friendly staff. The Denver Fillmore opened in 1999, making it the only other Fillmore that dates to the 20th century, which dons some credibility others lack. The theater’s decor also pays homage, with crimson walls, velvet curtains and chandeliers.

Despite the sub-freezing temperature EOTO is ready to heat things up. The duo uses a familiar lotus stage design, with the pair playing inside a large glowing lotus structure for an extra spiritual vibe. The show opens in Saturday night dance party mode with classic alien funk to incite the sizable crowd. The funky grooves still have the vitality and Eastern melodic flavors from Travis that seem much like the EOTO of old in the beginning.

As the evening progresses, there is a sonic trend toward that crunkier, wompier sound. EOTO has always been fond of the “womp womp” that personifies the dubstep genre. Classically, the group displayed a unique flair for mixing in organic flavors by generating infectious melodies on the guitar and bass. Travis certainly doesn’t use the axes as much as he once did, so there seems to be some merit in the reports of a change. Yet the crowd responds well to the evolution of EOTO’s sound to match EDM’s overall surge in popularity.

A mere 48 hours earlier, EDM titans Pretty Lights played a sold-out show at the 1,800-capacity Ogden Theater. Scalpers asked three times the ticket price on Craigslist but Pretty Lights impresario Derek Vincent Smith stuck it to the scalpers by releasing 90 tickets at the box office when doors opened. Pretty Lights opened for STS9 at Red Rocks in 2009, and grew to headline their own Red Rocks shows in 2013. This speaks volumes for the growing popularity of the EDM genre. Is EOTO trying to capitalize on that trend? It’s hard to say since they have an outlet for more rock based music in their main band, the String Cheese Incident.

The bottom line remains: the first half of the show was strong on an alien disco party sound. But as the show progressed, the sound seemed to trend in a far more electronic direction, with the last 15-20 minutes of the show questionably pushing the envelope with a pounding electronic bass over-saturation of the sonic spectrum. It appears a sonic evolution of sorts has driven older fans away, yet this change also seems to be drawing in a sizable new contingent. In conclusion, it seems that mileage with EOTO may well vary based on what kind of sonic fuel their fans prefer placing in the tank.

The two-hour set ends at 12:45 am. Friends inside the moe. show have texted that the second set has only recently begun. It’s only a couple blocks away, so this reporter walks up the street and manages to pull a Jedi mind trick to gain entry to catch most of moe.’s second set. The best of both worlds! The Denver music scene is without doubt one of the most happening in the country, with an ever-increasing number of fans relocating here from around the country. Will Denver become the modern mecca for serious music fans? Many people in Colorado will say it already has.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/177775-eoto/