Nothing for Design, Everything for Art

Cowboy Monkey quickly filled capacity on Saturday, April 29. Despite the rainy weather, people poured in as the music poured out onto the streets of downtown Champaign from the stage at the back of the bar. The bill of the evening consisted of openers Gentleman’s Auction Club and Wandering Sons, two bands worthy of their own respective articles in dedication. However, much of the excitement filling the bar centered around the headlining act of the evening, a local band on the exponential rise – elsinore.

The show marked the Champaign release of elsinore’s first full-length album, Nothing For Design, and the unveiling of the band’s new T-shirts. Design is a seven-month collaborative effort on the part of the folk-rock quartet.

The excitement in Cowboy Monkey escalated late Saturday night in anticipation of the headlining act. As soon as Ryan Groff (lead vocals/acoustic guitar), Dave Pride (congas/percussion/vocals), Mark Woolwine (piano/vocals), and Chris Eitel (bass/vocals) took the stage to do a quick sound check before their scheduled 12:00 a.m. performance, the crowd became increasingly antsy, releasing its anticipation with outbursts of clapping and shouting after a random strum of Groff’s acoustic guitar or a random beat of Pride’s congas.

At around 12:15 a.m., the crowd quieted down as the four-piece band played the first notes of their opening instrumental riff, giving way to a brief bass solo from Eitel. Groff stepped up to the mic, paused for a second, dug his foot into the ground, and promptly howled the first line of the first song off Design, “Mind, Space, and Time,” from center stage. I think it would be a discredit to elsinore and their powerfully hypnotizing, crowd-pleasing stage presence (and new-found reputation as the 2006 Local Music Award winners of write-in category Best Live Act) to say the crowd went anything short of nuts.

“It was amazing and left us with no words – only emotions and adrenaline for our set,” Groff said of the crowd.

Combusting into a collective mass of hand-clapping, head-bopping, hip-swaying happiness, the 130 in attendance were, no doubt, there in front of the stage because there was nowhere else in the CU universe they wanted to be at that point in time than dancing on the floor to the music of their local favorites. But if it can be said that the people on the floor were fist-pumping happy, then it must be noted that the four guys on the stage were even more elated. Groff’s bicep-length ringlets could have stood on end from static due to the amount of electricity flowing through his body on stage. Never has an acoustic guitar been played with so much energy. And smiles. And hugs.

Despite a broken G-string during the second song (go ahead, think of all the jokes you could make if only you were writing this article), elsinore filled over an hour and a half time slot with music from Design, as well as a couple of new and old songs. Mixing it up a little, a few guest musicians and friends performed on stage with the band throughout the set – Jenny Keefe on vocals and Adam Walton on bongos. From the sentimentalist’s perspective, crowd-favorite “Cannonballs” was to Cowboy Monkey Saturday evening what Clapton’s “Wonderful Tonight” is to most high school proms – not in the cheesy, over-the-top way, but in a feel-good, bringing everyone together way, that when coupled with the right environment (say, a live elsinore concert) might make you choke back a small tear.

Standing as testimony to their loyalty and adamant following of the band, the crowd sang right along with elsinore during most of the songs, at one point, during “Sliding Glass Door,” singing the entire chorus call-and-answer style with Groff. Also notable was the crowd’s inability to keep from losing control of their hands to air-drum along with Pride or air-keyboard along with Woolwine perfectly in sync. This fan participation was particularly impressive considering the album was only released that night and already the lyrics and music have been committed to memory by a good chunk of enthusiastic devotees. Saturday’s show sold 75 copies of Design and all 40 available T-shirts

“[The Champaign release show] was another huge reason to love and respect the CU music scene and call it home,” Groff commented after the show. “For the Monkey to be at capacity before Gentleman Auction House started at 10 p.m., and for a line of 20 to 30 people to be continuously at the door all night, we couldn’t have asked for a better turnout.”

The men of elisnore came together in October 2004 during their time spent in Charleston, Ill. at Eastern Illinois University, where three of the four members were pursuing degrees in music.

“Over the course of a few months we realized we all wanted the same thing … to play the music Chris and I were writing in front of as many people as possible,” Groff said. “So, we started putting the songs together with our unique instrumentation and they sounded like us, and not really any other band. We felt like were on to something good. Simply put, a year and a half later, we’re doing what we want to do, playing the music we want to, and we couldn’t be happier.”

Now, Groff, 25, has earned a bachelor’s degree in Music Composition. Woolwine, 28, and Pride, 25, are set to graduate with a master’s in Music Composition and a bachelor’s in Percussion Performance, respectively. Eitel, 32, is working towards a Chiropractic degree, but has currently put it on hold for the band.

Nothing for Design was recorded in downtown Champaign’s Pogo Studios with the help of Mark Rubel, lifetime musician and recording artist/consultant since 1980. Design follows in the wake of elsinore’s EP Harmonic Impulsion and Elsinore on Display: A Live CD, both released in 2005.

This summer elsinore is set to play at the outdoor Summer Camp Festival in Chillicothe, Ill. on May 27 with acts such as Andrew Bird, Keller Williams, Rusted Root, Moe and Umphrey’s McGee.

On top of sending copies of Design to radio stations, music Web sites and news publications to increase circulation as much as possible, elsinore has a two to three week tour in planning for mid-summer, equipped with their very own “band van.” With high hopes for the future of his quartet, Groff describes his band in a way that is impossible not to love.

“Elsinore is the world around us. We’re the blues, pop radio, country heartache, emotional sensitivity, raucous sass and sweaty hugs.”

If you missed the first, be sure to catch the second of elsinore’s two release shows Friday, May 5 at 8 p.m. at Jackson Avenue Coffee (outdoors) in Charleston with Theory of Everything. Admission is free.

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