Sunday, May 6, 2018

Ellis Paul at McCabe’s, 5-4-18 Concert Review

Ellis Paul performing "Straight To The Moon"
Ellis Paul is creating material for a new album, which should be finished later this year and released early next year. Apparently, there may be enough songs for a double album, which would be wonderful. And it looks like it will be released on vinyl, which is also good news for those of us who appreciate records (and there are a lot of us). Friday night he performed some of these new songs at McCabe’s in Santa Monica, along with some old favorites. Ellis did two sets, with no opener and no one accompanying him. It was an excellent show.

He started the first set just after 8 p.m., opening with what is arguably his best song, “Maria’s Beautiful Mess,” first breaking down the song into its components, showing how he can be a complete band on just the guitar, demonstrating the drum beat and the bass line that is incorporated into his guitar playing. “Imagine all the bail money I don’t have to carry,” he joked. “Maria’s Beautiful Mess” never fails to move me. It’s an excellent song with some wonderful lyrics. “And she steps close, her eyes glow/Lips pop open like a bottle of wine.” He then mentioned his upcoming album, which will be his twentieth. He started writing the new material by thinking of important days in his life. And then we got the first new song of the night, “The Innocence And The Afterlife,” about when his young daughter asked him about death. It’s a beautiful and effective song with some sweet humor in lines like “So my daughter says to me, ‘Well then, can I come back as a puppy?’/I said, yes, if what the Buddhists say is true/Then her tears came, her voice changed/She said, ‘If I came back as a puppy, would I belong to you?’”

When Ellis played the audience favorite “Kick Out The Lights,” the crowd was immediately on top of it, singing out their parts without needing much encouragement. And they sounded good. To two women in the front row he said, “I’m just trying not to sweat on you.” Then he added, “But maybe you’re into it, I don’t know.” He then treated us to another new one, “Five Alarm Fire On The 4th Of July,” a song about a family reunion in 1979. It has a lot of humorous lines like “Nobody died, but everyone was trying.” There is a nod to “We Are Family” at the end.

He mentioned the fundraising efforts for the new album, The Storyteller’s Suitcase, and showed a few of the things that folks who contribute will receive. Then he talked about vinyl, playing a Sam Cooke record on stage (the song was “Bring It On Home To Me,” which Ellis played a bit of during the soundcheck), and mentioned that the new album will be released on 180 gram vinyl. Ellis switched to the upright piano for “Scarecrow In A Corn Maze.” He told the crowd that during the set break, the audience could just roam around the store. “Just take whatever you like. That’s what I do. There’s so much shit in here, they’d never know what’s missing.” McCabe’s, for those who aren’t familiar with the place, is mainly a guitar shop, and in the evenings its large back room is transformed into a concert venue. He finished up the first set with “I Ain’t No Jesus” and “3,000 Miles.” The first set ended at 9 p.m.

The set break was exactly twenty minutes, and Ellis started the second set with “This Is Where All Good Trees Go,” a song about McCabe’s that he’s been playing at his shows there for several years. Last night’s version was quite short, without any new improvised lyrics. “That one was free,” Ellis joked afterward. He followed that with “Rose Tattoo,” playing harmonica on it. “If I ever lost you/I would be lost too.” When he introduced “Alice’s Champagne Palace,” a song about a bar in Alaska, two women in the front row responded, one saying she was about to travel there and another saying she is from there – the state, not the bar. “Alice’s Champagne Palace” has become another audience favorite, and he delivered a really good rendition on Friday. After that, he read “Thomas Edison” from The Hero In You.

Ellis then played a couple of new ones, starting with “The Storyteller’s Suitcase,” which will be the title track for the upcoming release. It’s so new, that he said he was still learning it, and he opened his book with the lyrics and left it at his feet. “This is a song about the life of a musician,” he said by way of introduction. “A song is just a skeleton key, it can open any palace door.” He kept his lyrics book opened for the next song as well, “Straight To The Moon,” at one point kneeling on the stage to get a better look, drawing laughter from the audience. “Straight To The Moon” is a completely delightful song, a song that will make you happy. “You stepped into my life/It’s crazy how I love waking up to you/Now my wandering days are through.”

During the set break, someone in the audience requested “God’s Promise,” and Ellis played it toward the end of the show. This song has lyrics written by Woody Guthrie, and music written by Ellis Paul. He momentarily forgot some of the lyrics, but still delivered a good rendition. He then concluded the second set with Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land,” the song that I argue should be our national anthem (with all its verses). Ellis performed this one unmiked in the middle of the audience. He did all but the final verse (the “Nobody living can ever stop me” verse), and the audience sang along with the chorus. The encore was “California,” which he performed on piano, with some added lyrics about McCabe’s. The show ended at 10:08 p.m.

Set List

Set I
  1. Maria’s Beautiful Mess
  2. The Innocence And The Afterlife
  3. Kick Out The Lights
  4. Five Alarm Fire On The 4th Of July
  5. Scarecrow In A Corn Maze
  6. I Ain’t No Jesus
  7. 3,000 Miles
 Set II
  1. This Is Where All Good Trees Go
  2. Rose Tattoo
  3. Alice’s Champagne Palace
  4. Thomas Edison
  5. The Storyteller’s Suitcase
  6. Straight To The Moon
  7. God’s Promise
  8. This Land Is Your Land
  1. California
"Scarecrow In A Corn Maze"

 McCabe’s is located at 3101 Pico Blvd. in Santa Monica, California.

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