LIVE REVIEW: Eliot Sumner at The Riot Room
It’s unseasonably warm for an October evening: mid-70s and I’m very comfortable in a short-sleeved t-shirt. And yet, a chill will run down my spine as Eliot Sumner dives into her set at the Riot Room on Monday evening.
It’s the third song in Jaenki’s set. The band, native to Kansas City, are first on the bill. Slowly, Eliot Sumner ascends the staircase that connects the main bar room to the underground green room below. The bar’s attendants seem mostly unaware of her presence: the musician that they came out on a Monday night to see. At the back of the bar, she bobs her head to the beat of the complex time signature composed and performed by the musicians on stage.
Throughout the first two sets, she mozies through the crowd and mills around the room. I walk up to the bar while she’s ordering a KC Pils. The bartender retrieves her beer, and a Free State Octoberfest that I request. I say hello, and extend a hand for shaking, which she enthusiastically accepts. After our beers are delivered, we clink a cheers and I more formally introduce myself.
“I’m Eliot,” she smiles, and we chat about Jaenki and My Jerusalem, the group that’s currently touring with Eliot Sumner and co. My Jerusalem is a traditional four-piece rock outfit from Austin, TX: the kind of group that makes you wish that you’d remembered to pick up ear plugs before the show.
The patrons of this establishment pays no mind to the football game projected on a flat-screen T.V. in the bar. There’s little time to lose focus between sets, and approaching 9:00 p.m., the crowd begins to thicken. As Eliot, Jan, Adam, and Nick (bass/vocals, synth, drums, guitar respectively) sound check, an energy buzzes through the crowd. Without warning, the group is playing the first verse of “Dead Arms & Dead Legs,” the first track on their album Information.
Eliot and her musical co-conspirators have been touring with these songs for more than a year, though the album was released at the beginning of 2016. A collection of 12 tracks, Information is the first release under Sumner’s legal name. As a musician, Sumner has undergone several metamorphoses, performing under various monikers at different points in her career to separate her identity from that of her well-known parents, Sting and Trudie Styler. But now, at age 26, Eliot’s biological connection to The Police’s frontman is no secret.
The set continues as Eliot works through most of the tracks of Information, with the elegance of someone who has played these songs a thousand times before, but the humility of someone performing in front of a crowd for the first time. Without effort, she captivates the audience, brooding and bellowing lyrics in a low register. Live, the synthesizer plays less of a prominent role in the instrumentation, instead striking a balance with the guitar, bass, and drums. She introduces a couple of new tracks, including “Ribbon,” whose underlying beat is produced by a drum machine.
Throughout the crowd, phone screens are aglow with Eliot’s visage. The illuminated faces are mesmerized when the band begins their last song of the night, the title track off Information. The band leaves mid-song and returns to play out the last chorus amongst chanting from the crowd. The lights are spastic, keeping most of the band in shadow. Nick plays his guitar using a glass Topo Chico bottle as a slide. The set ends, and they leave the stage amidst cheers, stepping directly into the crowd, to traverse the venue to the bar.
For the rest of the night, the four of them are jovial. Show-goers hang around; members of Jaenki and My Jerusalem are interspersed in throughout the crowd. A lone laptop is stationed on stage, producing music that’s drowned out by the sounds of conversation and laughter. Eliot is buoyant, dancing around the space and between fans requesting selfies and engaging in conversation. Any trace of gloom or anger has been left on the stage with her bass.
Oct 04 Studio B @ Skyway Theater / Minneapolis, MN
Oct 05 Schubas / Chicago, IL
Oct 06 The New Vintage / Louisville, KY
Oct 07 Limelight Eventplex / Peoria, IL
Oct 10 Exit/In / Nashville, TN
Oct 12 Showcase Lounge / South Burlington, VT
Oct 13 The Bowery Ballroom / New York, NY
Oct 14 The Red Room at Cafe 939 / Boston, MA
Eliot performing 'Information' live at Albert Hall