EL VY embraces the unexpected at Union Transfer

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EL VY | Photo by Chris Sikich | sikichphotography.com
EL VY | Photo by Chris Sikich | sikichphotography.com

They might suggest their band name is like the plural of Elvis, but Matt Berninger of The National and Brent Knopf of Ramona Falls and Menonmena are not trying to emulate the king with EL VY. Rather they have created a pop rock crush, sweeping listeners off their feet. On Tuesday, they certainly had the adoration of an overjoyed Union Transfer crowd. Playing every song from Return to the Moon plus a cover of Fine Young Cannibals’ classic “She Drives Me Crazy,” they did what few in the audience would truly expect — perform as their current persona rather than as a schizophrenic version of EL VY, The National, Menonmena and beyond.

And what a show they put on. Berninger was his usual doppelganger self, retreating into the music and the stage, sometimes hiding within a stunning lightshow. Mostly backlit with their own lights, it sometimes looked like the universe was opening up and was ready to swallow EL VY and all of Philadelphia into a parallel existence. But then there was the other Berninger, ready to break down the fourth wall and jump right into the audience. He was very intrigued by the trio of myself and two other Philadelphia photographers. Out of nowhere, he knelt down to be right in our faces for a possible close-up and then lunged right into the crowd. Later he crouched for another close up and took one of the photographer’s cameras on stage for a few moments. He also got cozy with a few fans, as he has been wont to do in previous Philly appearances (at the Academy of Music in 2011 he walked out onto the plush seats into the crowd and also scaled the side of the Electric Factory stage to get on the balcony in 2010).

Berninger and Knopf got the crowd the most excited with the album’s title track, a semi parable that cryptically refers to The Minutemen. Knopf with his guitar and keyboard duties, seemingly was on the side of action. This was certainly not true as his harmonies and expert playing were perfectly framed by the dramatic lighting backdrop.

Certainly one of the live highlights of the year, EL VY’s show was further elevated by opener Wye Oak. The duo of Jenn Wasner and Andy Stack (who did double drum duty as he also played with EL VY) rattled and hummed their way through one of their first live gigs in a while. With their accomplished 2014 record Shriek as one of their set’s main backbones, they were an awesome cup of rock coffee to rev the crowd up for EL VY.

Setlist
Careless
It’s a Game
Sleepin’ Light
Silent Ivy Hotel
Sad Case
Happiness, MS
Return to the Moon
Paul Is Alive
I’m the Man to Be
She Drives Me Crazy (Fine Young Cannibals cover)
No Time to Crank the Sun
Need a Friend

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