Matt Berninger's EL VY Makes Energetic L.A. Debut: Concert Review

El Vy Live 2015 H
BM Venti
The National frontman's side project delights with both dance funk and rock anthems.

EL VY, the side project of The National’s Matt Berninger and Menomena’s Brent Knopf, made its L.A. debut Saturday at the legendary Troubadour in West Hollywood. It was the first of two sold-out shows, and the anticipation was palpable.

Although the project was announced just this past summer, the duo has utilized social media to promote debut album Return to the Moon, releasing a series of videos directed by Berninger’s filmmaker brother, Tom. As a result, the audience cheered in recognition during the opening notes of nearly every song, even singing along to many of them.

The set began with the somewhat moody “Careless,” a quieter number that touches upon the central story of Moon. “The two main characters — Didi Bloome and Michael — are named after D. Boon and Mike Watt from Minutemen,” Berninger has said. “It was more their friendship than Minutemen the band that inspired EL VY.”

Although songs such as “Careless” could easily find a place on a National record, EL VY has been described as an outlet for both Berninger and Knopf outside of their respective bands, and this is evident in the title track and “I’m the Man to Be,” which both feature funky, dance-inducing beats. When introducing “I’m the Man to Be” — a dark, but somewhat amusing song about a lonely man in a hotel room whose “dick’s in sunlight held up by kites” — Matt says with a smile, “I’m not going to dedicate this song, because it’s a terrible song to dedicate.”

For songs such as “Happiness Missouri” and “Need a Friend,” the core of these numbers is a thunderous chorus that drives listeners to mimic a freak-out, only encouraged by Berninger’s manic onstage antics: crouching down to face the audience as he screams into the mic, flailing and writhing about.

One of the highlights of the night was not an EL VY song, but a cover of Fine Young Cannibals’ “She Drives Me Crazy.” This version was far louder and rowdier than the 1988 original, as fans pumped their fists in the air. Impressively, despite being released almost three decades ago, everyone seemed familiar with the ’80s classic.

Knopf has described Moon as a “really richly textured record. There’s a lot of variety in terms of the tonalities, emotions and themes — both musically and lyrically.” Saturday’s performance demonstrated this roller-coaster of sounds: EL VY began the night with subtlety, transformed to Beck-like grooviness and concluded with full-on rock anthems. For Berninger and Knopf, this side project appears to be a cathartic experience of experimentation — much to the delight of fans.

Set List
It’s a Game
Sleeping Light
Happiness Missouri
Silent Ivy
Return to the Moon
Paul Is Alive
I’m the Man to Be
She Drives Me Crazy
No Time
Need a Friend

Twitter: @cherylcheng00