Live Review: Banners with Ellevator at Jammin’ Java, Vienna, VA – 19th April 2018

By on Monday, 23rd April 2018 at 2:00 pm

Nothing beats the special satisfaction I get when one of the acts I tipped makes it, and I was lucky to see one of my tips ahead of SXSW 2016 and near home. While Liverpudlian Banners (real name Mike Nelson) might not be a household name, he’s getting pretty damn close: in addition to some high-profile American tv syncs, he recently starred as a guest mentor for aspiring pop upstarts on American Idol, a show seen by millions in our country. For an indie artist, that’s massive. Thursday night, he came back to earth to perform at the intimate Jammin’ Java in Northern Virginia.

Joining him on the evening were Hamilton, Ontario’s Ellevator, who had just arrived in Virginia after a half-day’s drive from home. Despite the long journey, they were buoyed by the mere fact that they were performing in a town that wasn’t covered in snow. They were also eager to show off their songs, namely those on a brand new, self-titled EP to be released the next day. They were performing a stripped-back set, as their usual keyboardist Elliott was sadly at home and in hospital. Drummer Mike was then tasked to play drums and synth with his right hand. If you’re like me and have enough trouble with patting your head and rubbing your tummy at the same time, you can imagine how difficult this may have been.

Ellevator Washington 3

Despite frontwoman Nabi Sue Bersche’s admittance that their barer setup was less muscular than they normally sound, it provided the unique opportunity for a more intimate performance that saw her chatting with Banners’ fans down the front. Their set included EP track ‘St. Cecilia’, the engaging ‘Easy’ and a surprisingly good cover of Kate Bush’s ‘Running Up That Hill’. They finished on a high note with another one from the EP, the feel good track ‘New Survival’.

Banners and his band came prepared with an exciting, strobe-filled light show that would have felt right at home at any established electronic artist’s gig. To start, Nelson gave a nod to his Scouse roots with a clip of the Beatles’ schmaltzy ‘All You Need is Love’ as his walk-on music. There was loads of self-deprecating banter between songs, the kind that made the audience laugh (“I swam all the way here from Liverpool, that was quite tiring!”) or audibly “aww” (Nelson admitting he’d drop everything if his beloved Liverpool Football Club came calling for him to report to Anfield as a striker). You can take the boy out of Liverpool, but you can’t take Liverpool out of the boy. ‘Back When We Had Nothing’, from the first and eponymous ‘Banners’ EP, seems like another love letter to his days back in the Pool. The song is a sweeping, upbeat number much like the rest of Banners’ catalogue with Island Records so far: positive, based and love and inspiring.

We’re still waiting for a Banners album, but Nelson has released a series of singles and EPs for music fans to sink their teeth into in the meantime. His most recent EP, ‘Empires on Fire’ released last autumn, is full of catchy melodies. From verse to chorus, the title track smoulders and morphs from tentative pop to full-bodied pop/rock. Uplifting EP opener ‘Someone to You’ has thrust him into the national spotlight, being used by ABC in their advertising campaign for American Idol. (Read my review of the single through this link.) Instead of performing it in its normal guise, Nelson and band huddled at the front of the stage to perform it stripped back: only accompanied by Nelson’s acoustic guitar, the result was a harmonious beauty.

While the gig started slow, with the first two of three songs unknown to the audience, the three-song punch of stadium rockers ‘Start a Riot’, ‘Gold Dust’ and ‘Shine a Light’ was epic. Blowing the audience away with his memorable melodies and his band’s bombast, this was a performance the DC crowd would not soon forget.

Banners Washington 3

Banners’ Set List:
Let Go
Into the Storm
Back When We Had Nothing
Empires on Fire
Half Light
Someone to You (acoustic)
Tear the Night Apart
Holy Ground
Fall With Me
Start a Riot
Gold Dust
Shine a Light

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There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours we love and think you should too.

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