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Thank you, Eliot Sumner

Rush, Ozzy and The Police were the first three bands that I ever got into as a kid, probably between the ages of 10 – 12. They shaped my music listening, they are the first bands that I stood in front of the mirror and pretended to be. Although, like most kids’ first listening experiences, I knew songs by those artists that I heard on the radio, not all the deep album cuts. But, then, in 1983, The Police released Synchronicity and it was one of the first albums that I ever bought with my own money. And because I spent my own money on it, I listened to every song, over and over. It didn’t hurt that that album had like 5 singles and was all over the radio.

I’m on some press email list and early this year received a link to download an advance copy of Eliot Sumner’s new album, Information. The Sumner name jumped out at me, if it had come in as “the new album by I Blame Coco”, I may not have even opened the email. I gave the music a listen and it spoke to me. As a lifelong Police fan, I’ve always been looking for bands that are influenced by The Police but am pretty particular and, so far, haven’t really found a band that meets my criteria. I thought, for a little while, that Mutemath might be that band – something about their earlier stuff reminded me of The Police but I don’t hear that in their newer stuff. And, of course, I’ve checked out Fiction Plane in the hopes that Joe Sumner would be like, “If I sound like my dad, I’ll sell millions of records.” I do hear some Police/Sting in Fiction Plane’s music but it feels to me like Joe is trying to forge his own identity.

I don’t think Eliot is coasting on her dad’s name but I think there’s an unavoidable influence that Eliot may not even be conscious aware of. I’ve only seen The Police once, on their reunion tour and I wasn’t in the first row but having seen a lot of videos, a lot of recorded live performances, etc, the way Eliot moves on stage, the way she holds and plays her bass, the way she throws in “ehh” and “ohhh” in the spaces in songs – like just sort of feeling the urge to sing into the mike – that all reminds me of Sting. There’s way she phrases words, ways she sing melodies, even the intense look on her face when performing that makes me think, “Yep, that’s Sting’s daughter for sure.”

I got to spend 15 minutes with Eliot, 10 of which she was doing an interview with my kid. I don’t pretend to know her in the least but in the very short time that I did get to spend with her – in addition to the 10 minutes after the show where I watched her interact with fans – she comes across as very genuine and, frankly, young. I think, because of who her parents are and because I vaguely recognized the “Coco” name, I was thinking she’d be an old, wise soul. She is, but she’s also a kid. She’s soaking up the “on the road” experience. She played in front of probably 25 people at the Big Room Bar (Columbus, Ohio) and, at the start of the set, people were leaving that “safe zone” between the audience and the stage. Two songs into the set, Eliot said, “Come on Columbus, get close.” She didn’t have to ask twice, everybody moved up. She has a presence that commands the audience’s attention. I don’t pay a lot of attention to lyrics but the songs on Eliot’s album seem to be full of heartbreak, desperation, sadness, anger, longing. Even though I couldn’t sing along with every word, these songs seemed very personal and, maybe, even cathartic. I don’t want to say that I think Eliot’s trying to find herself … I think she’s well aware of who she is … but I wonder what her next album will sound like, what topics the lyrics will touch on.

Music touches my soul. Good music gets into my blood and works its way through my body. A great live performance can transport me into another dimension, can make me feel like I’m the only person on the planet and the artist is performing just for me. These are all the feelings and emotions I felt while watching Eliot and her band. I’m not ashamed to admit that I felt on the verge of tears at times, I was that moved by the music, by the performance.

Maybe it’s good that I’m nearly 45 years old. It was a perfect evening, from meeting Eliot and band before the show and watching my kid interact with her to seeing one of my favorite concerts of 2016 and, maybe, ever. I walked to my car and pulled up Eliot’s remaining tour dates on my phone. Tonight, there’s a show in Cleveland and the 25-year-old me (the same age Eliot is now) wouldn’t even give it a second thought – I’d be on 71 North by 5pm en route to the Grog Shop. And the 21-year-old me would probably follow Eliot around the Midwest, hitting shows within a 5-hour drive.

As it is, I hope Eliot stays on the road, continues to build a fanbase, is given opportunities to play in front of large crowds; the blessing and the curse of becoming obsessed with a band that you want to be “your band” – seeing Eliot in a small venue with 25 people is something I’ll never forget and having the chance to be close enough to watch her expressions throughout the show was captivating, but I wish her only the best and hope that she has the chance to be playing on much larger stages, where I probably won’t be able to be as close, so that others can experience the same thing I did.

Thank you, Eliot Sumner, for giving me something to write about.

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