An Evening with the Music of Eli August

by J.P. Dean

If you’re into steampunk and the music associated with it then you probably know bands like Abney Park, the Extraordinary Contraptions, Vernian Process and you might also know Eli August.

Now for those of you unfamiliar with steampunk, well that’s a whole other article that you need to read (one which I’ll happily write for you someday) but stick with me for the Eli August bit for now.

Originally from Wisconsin, Eli August now lives and records in Baltimore, a city strongly associated with the chilling musings of Edgar Allan Poe, which seems most apropos for the haunting tunes created by Mr. August. Although recognized by the steampunk community through his performances at many events such as the Steampunk World’s Fair in New Jersey, Eli August presents a sound that carves a unique niche within a unique genre; he’s not your typical steampunk musician.

There is a melancholic earnestness to his songs as August pours his soul through the strings of guitar, ukulele or mandolin. He is more akin to a folk singer sharing ballads of shadows and ghosts than a steampunk rock star blasting you with tales of airships and clockwork robots.

The recent album “Let This House Burn Slowly” is packed with an emotional intensity that requires a large degree of commitment from the listener. Don’t expect many happy tunes from Mr. August.

All of this resolute feeling is packed into his live acoustic performances as demonstrated when he swung by Cincinnati in June; he is currently touring the Midwest on route to another circuit in Canada.

The venue for the Queen City show, Roxx Electrocafe, was most apt for a steampunk singer. Newly opened this March in its home on Calhoun Street at the edge of the UC campus, Roxx Electrocafe appears to be just another hip coffee shop when you first walk in. A few steps further in, however, and you see all the steampunk-inspired décor with gilded frames, rusted ray guns, and other objects that blend antique and modern in a strange harmony.

For those still lost about steampunk, I promise I’ll write that article soon.

A modest but dedicated crowd came out to see Eli August play his one man set for the coffee shop. At larger venues he plays with a band, but this tour is what he refers to as his Parlour Tour, opting for smaller and more intimate venues that allow him to sit directly across from the audience to whom he performs. This closeness just seemed to amplify the emotional honestly of his songs as though you were there to bear witness to a confession rather than there to be entertained.

Between songs, however, August is actually most entertaining with his self deprecating humor and there was a very dark mirth in his one cover song of the night; his take on Cyndi Lauper’s 80s hit “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” turns the pop tune into another of his tragic ballads