Sunday, January 29, 2017

Ellis Paul at McCabe’s, 1-28-17 Concert Review

Ellis Paul introduces "Kick Out The Lights"
As the world spins completely out of control and into the land of the strange and ugly, we are going to be turning more and more to those few things we’ve learned to count on. And one thing I know I can rely on to raise my spirits and reaffirm my faith in humanity is an Ellis Paul concert. He played last night at McCabe’s in Santa Monica. I deliberately avoided the news all day before the show in an effort to keep myself from turning toward anger and despair, and it worked, basically. Though when Ellis Paul took the stage just after eight o’clock, he immediately made a reference to the state of things: “Beautiful day today…unless you’re a Muslim immigrant trying to get in.” He then dedicated the first song to an audience member who is turning 89 tomorrow (well, today now – happy birthday).

That set opener was “I Ain’t No Jesus,” and this was a good version. It felt more poignant than usual, with lines like “The only miracle that I have seen is I can call you mine” really striking a chord. Perhaps that is because, with the world becoming more and more fucked up with every passing hour, we are focusing more on our personal relationships, really appreciating the people in our lives. I know I am, and I am thankful for the wonderful friends and family in my life, and especially for the woman who I hope one day will walk down that aisle to me. That would be, without a doubt, a miracle.

Ellis followed that with one of his absolute best songs, “Maria’s Beautiful Mess.” Before he started that one, he mentioned the planned protest over Donald Trump’s insane order to keep Muslims out of our country. “There is supposed to be a protest tomorrow at LAX. It’s at one o’clock, if you want to go. I’m going to be there, just trying to get home.” He also talked about playing a gig the day of the inauguration, and then waking up the next morning at a rest stop in Maryland, surrounded by buses of women coming in for the Women’s March. That was a day that gave hope to a lot of people, and one thing that was remarkable about it was that there was no trouble at any of the marches. There was a joy attached to the anger, and that’s something we have to hold onto. “And she loves like it’s thirst/Like she’s never been hurt/She’s dancing just like nobody’s watching.” After “Maria’s Beautiful Mess,” he played a relatively new song, “Scarecrow In A Maze,” performing it on piano, first talking a bit about the music that was playing in his house while he was growing up. At this show, Ellis told a lot of stories, weaving them together with the music, and developing a strong rapport with the audience, and he identified this song as a “story song.” This was the third time I’d seen him perform it, and I think this was the best of the three versions.

As usual, “Kick Out The Lights” was one of the set’s highlights, with the audience singing its parts (the women sounded great singing “Johnny Cash, Johnny Cash, Johnny Cash”). This was a particularly good version, with the guitar sounding deliciously mean at moments. Ellis followed that with “You Ain’t From These Parts,” playing it unmiked in the middle of the audience, with some new lyrics he wrote just before the show. He employed the help of a woman in the audience, having her hold the book of lyrics open to the new verse, which featured lyrics about towns in California. It’s a fun folk song about the pronunciation of town names, and this one too features a part for the audience.

Before “Snow In Austin,” he mentioned the lawsuit involving the song “Stairway To Heaven,” and the use of the same chord progressions in various songs. To prove his point, he played bits of “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright,” “Landslide,” “Dust In The Wind” and “The City Of New Orleans,” all of which have the same chord changes as “Snow In Austin,” as he led into the song. During the song, someone in the front coughed, and Ellis whispered to him, “You have what I have.” And indeed, he still wasn’t over the cold he had during the New Year’s run, though his voice was significantly stronger than it was, say, on December 30th. He playfully went directly into a bit of “Mr. Bojangles” at the end.

Ellis read the poem “Thomas Edison” from his book The Hero In You, then returned to the piano for a beautiful rendition of “Home.” “Home sits across the table/Home is dreaming in my sheets/Home, home/This house is just an address, you lift me from all sadness/This house is just an address, you're my home.” One of these days I’m going to make a mix CD of songs titled “Home,” because there are several really good ones. He followed “Home” with a short version of “This Is Where All Good Trees Go,” the song about McCabe’s that he’s been playing at this venue for the last few years.

The audience sang along with “3,000 Miles,” and after that song, Ellis talked about how of all the arts music is the one where the audience plays an active part in the result, how audience members relate the songs to their own lives and thoughts. “This is one of the problems with music videos. You suddenly start associating the song with the video instead of the pictures in your head.” Ellis played harmonica on this song. After that, he asked the folks in the audience what they wanted to hear. Various requests were shouted out, including “Translucent Soul,” “The World Ain’t Slowin’ Down,” “Angel In Manhattan” and “Paris In A Day.” Of those requested, it was no surprise that he chose “The World Ain’t Slowin’ Down.” He played it unmiked in the middle of the audience. The audience sang along, but without the volume they had for “Kick Out The Lights.”

Ellis Paul then ended the show back at the piano, playing a short tune titled “California.” “California, California, California/You get the best of everything/You get the best of everything/You got Charlie Chaplin and the Hollywood sign/Avocados growing deep on the vine/Marilyn Monroe and the sweet sunshine/You make it hard to be from Arkansas.” That led directly to an excellent and moving rendition of “If I Had A Hammer.” There was no encore.

Set List
  1. I Ain’t No Jesus
  2. Maria’s Beautiful Mess
  3. Scarecrow In A Corn Maze
  4. Kick Out The Lights
  5. You Ain’t From These Parts
  6. Snow In Austin >
  7. Mr. Bojangles
  8. Thomas Edison
  9. Home
  10. This Is Where All Good Trees Go
  11. 3,000 Miles
  12. Rose Tattoo
  13. The World Ain’t Slowin’ Down
  14. California >
  15. If I Had A Hammer 

Ellis Paul introduces "Rose Tattoo"
 McCabe’s is located at 3101 Pico Blvd, in Santa Monica.

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