Cranking it up, El Ten Eleven charms crowd at The Saint

Tony Contini / Tahoe Onstage

El Ten Eleven’s Kristian Dunn hops around the stage like a kid on Christmas.
Tony Contini / Tahoe Onstage

During their set at The Saint, El Ten Eleven frontman Kristian Dunn confessed the duo has performed for 16 years, and this was only the third time playing in Reno. It is touring on the album “Banker’s Hill,” which was released last month.

“We played a giant San Francisco show last night,” said Dunn, the band’s double-ax madman. “But you guys are kinda more fun.”

The young crowd cheered.

El Ten Eleven hails from Los Angeles.

Dunn packs an arsenal, including his trusty fretless bass, 6-string bass and guitar/bass doubleneck. He’s a one-man band — no offense to drummer Tim Fogarty. Dunn is Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins. His arms and legs flail like an octopus on instruments and effect pedals. He’s the only person in music justified to have a sea of pedal boards.

Tony Contini / Tahoe OnstageEl Ten Eleven’s music is anthemic and groovy. It’s a band whose 2004 self-titled record has been so consistently played in my home over the past decade that I forget the masses don’t also place it with rock masterpieces such as Revolver, OK Computer or Meddle. I forget El Ten Eleven is not a household name.

Dunn’s music does what all good music should – it makes you feel. The feelings and narratives are powerful without the use of lyrics. His onstage microphone is used solely for the occasional “Thank you.”

There are no mess-ups in the game they play. Dunn serves as the lows, mids and highs and every melody of every song. His skill is far from a gimmick. If you aren’t impressed by the solo sonic breadth he creates, you’re surely floored by his coordinated double-handed taps and hammer-ons on two separate instruments featured on songs such as “Sorry About Your Irony.” It’s a song that’s also in 7/8,  just to make it more difficult. Even while watching it right in front of you, it’s hard to comprehend the skill and dedication.

There was a shining moment during a fan favorite, “My Only Swerving,” where the slightest twang of a mistake was recorded. Dunn smiled and pointed it out the next time it came around. He owned it.

Dunn is the master of harmonics, pull-offs, hammer-ons and tapping. He also uses slides and an octave pedal for spacey melodies. He hops around the stage like a kid on Christmas.

It’s impressive for any band to keep a Reno bar crowd focused for long. It’s astounding it was done by a two-piece instrumental, post-rock outfit. One dude in the audience kept shouting, “This is the coolest shit I’ve ever seen!”

The Saturday, Sept. 8 show began with opener Tennis System, also from Los Angeles. They played melodic power-pop reminiscent of The Cure. Maybe an edgier version of the Sussex new wave gods with a little bit of The Drums thrown in.

Every article of clothing onstage was colored black, from the drummer’s hat to the bassist’s Angus Young shorts. The articulated drumming surrounded music hard enough for head-banging and melodic enough to sway.

— Tony Contini

Tony Contini / Tahoe Onstage

El Ten Eleven photos by Tony Contini / Tahoe Onstage

Tennis System

Tahoe Onstage

Tennis System plays The Saint in Reno on Sept. 8, 2018.
Tahoe Onstage photos by Tony Contini

Tony Contini / Tahoe Onstage

About Tony Contini

Photographer and journalist Tony Contini graduated from the University of Nevada, Reno with a bachelor's degree in journalism and a minor in art photography. He loves working with bands and telling stories. Photography portfolio: https://www.TonyContini.com

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