Wednesday, May 07 2014 04:31 PM

Eli Young: Left of center on the country chart

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    By courtesy of Eli Young Band

    The Eli Young Band, from left: James Young, Mike Eli, Jon Jones and Chris Thompson.

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BY CESAREO GARASA Contributing writer

If you're looking for Eli Young, you're not going to find him -- at least not in the Eli Young Band.

The band's name comes from a combination of the last names of founding members Mike Eli, the lead singer, and guitarist James Young (the group is rounded out by bassist Jon Jones and drummer Chris Thompson). So just like Pink Floyd and Steely Dan, the titular Eli Young doesn't actually exist -- at least not tangibly.

Related Info

The Eli Young Band with special guest Blackjack Billy

When: 8 p.m. Sunday

Where: Fox Theater, 2001 H St.

Admision: $23-$26 at the box office (tickets are more if ordered online or by phone)

Information: vallitix.com or 322-5200

For the uninitiated, the Eli Young band -- which plays the Fox Sunday -- boasts a sound that meets somewhere in that great overlap of mainstream pop/rock and the current wallet-chain-and-12-pack style of country music that's both popular and divisive.

Incorporating extremely polished hooks with an everyday working-man image, each member works as a functioning cog in their machine: the steady bassist, the no-frills drummer and the nimble lead guitar player, all led by the uber-casual singer.

The single "Drunk Last Night," off the band's latest album, "10.000 Towns," perfectly sums up Eli Young.

The song is a party anthem and a what-the-heck-happened ode to the night before that will feel and sound familiar to anyone who's had to call home a little past last call.

"We love the song," said bassist Jones, who said the decision to release the eventual No. 1 hit was a combination of calculation and instinct.

"We'd never really recorded a straight-up, honky-tonk drinking song -- not that we were opposed to it -- but we wanted to do one that was a bit left-of-center, a little more clever, and that song was that for us."

It was a smart choice for a band of new dads who are quickly approaching the later-half of thirty-something because it can be interpreted differently by listeners in their 20s, 30s and 40s.

"We thought our fans would 'get it,' because we totally got it. It played into our lives really, really well."

After releasing three albums, the band hit a career best year in 2011 with the album "Life at Best," which yielded the platinum single "Crazy Girl," named song of the year by the Academy of Country Music. Not too shabby for a band that started out as an acoustic duo in the dorms at the University of North Texas and has retained its current lineup for 11 years.

"We're like the old married couple that can have the same conversation over and over again, but when we get onstage, we're those same friends that met in college," Jones said. "I don't see that ever changing. We started off as friends. I've seen so many great bands that we've come up with over the years come and go because they couldn't get the little things to work. You gotta have that friendship there, because the music part can tear you apart. It's weird."

Jones noted that when he and his bandmates started out, they didn't define themselves as a country act. But then country radio and the industry itself has grown to allow more diversity, he said.

"We love being a country band, but also love that country music has come to a place that is very accepting of things both from the left and from the right, and it's pretty wide open right now. I think country music is more like what we've always played, like when we started out, and that's a very positive sign for us. We're also seeing a changing of the guard where some of the older artists are having less of a presence on the radio and are touring a little bit less and then there's this great new breath of fresh air that's been coming for the last few years. It's nice that it's all of our friends -- Luke Bryan, Jason Aldean, Lady Antebellum, the Band Perry. In the past five years all these acts are huge headlining acts now. Country is one of the strongest genres out there."

And speaking of modern country, openers Blackjack Billy exemplify the new contemporary pop-country music popularized by artists like Bryan and Aldean. With their tattoos, long hair and sleeveless shirts, they portray an image that screams "We are the reincarnation of Lynyrd Skynyrd for millennials!" Sound-wise? Not so much.

Their sound is about as redneck pop as it will ever get, and even if they rock a YOLO image, they're pure Nashville calculation. If the Eli Young band is singing about the aftermath of a heavy night out with the boys, those boys were most definitely Blackjack Billy.

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