Saturday, November 18, 2023

Ellis Paul at The Grand Annex, 11-17-23 Concert Review

"Kick Out The Lights"
Ellis Paul is doing a few shows in California this week, last night playing at The Grand Annex in San Pedro, and delivering two fun sets. He seemed in especially good humor, even though he had to play on a borrowed guitar after his guitar was once again damaged in flight. It might have been partly because of the venue. There was such a good, relaxed and cheerful vibe to the place, and to all the people who worked there. I suppose we’ve come to expect that of those who work in folk clubs, but these guys were especially welcoming, standing out even among that group. And there was a wine tasting before the show for those who spent an extra sixteen dollars (pretty cheap for a wine tasting). And for those not inclined to take part in the tasting, there was still wine and beer available at the concession counter. The patrons at this club were also friendly, and it felt like a little party, or gathering, with people mingling and drinking rather than simply staying in their seats waiting for the show to start. So not a shy crowd. And that contributed to the fun atmosphere too, for these people did not hesitate to participate on a song like “Kick Out The Lights.” But more on that in a bit.

Arielle Silver
Opening the show was Arielle Silver, a singer and songwriter based in Los Angeles, though originally from the east coast. She mentioned that she used to live in Boston, and saw Ellis Paul in concert several times, and once in her dreams, when he appeared to give her some career advice. By her second song, she had completely grabbed me. That song, “Ghost Ships,” was beautiful. It is from her new album, Watershed. From that release, she also played “Asteroids And Chaos” and “Bottle Up Tonight.” I’m glad to know she lives in Los Angeles, because it means I’ll get more chances to see her. She has a talent for songwriting and performing, but also there is also a warmth to her personality that comes across in her delivery.

After a short break, Ellis Paul came out on stage. “I’d like to introduce the band,” he said, drawing laughter immediately. “This is Mr. Radoslav Lorkovic.” Radoslav sat down at the grand piano to cheers from the audience. And Ellis started the show with “I Ain’t No Jesus,” delivering a really sweet rendition, setting the tone for the set. He then mentioned how the neck on his guitar was broken during the flight, and he was borrowing a guitar from Dan Navarro, who was in the audience. He remarked how he’s been a folksinger for more than thirty years, and spoke about how his interest in music evolved. “My parents didn’t want a folk singer in the family,” he told the crowd. He added, “They wanted someone like you, someone who could afford a ticket to come see a folk show.” He connected a moment from near the beginning of his career, when his father told him he needed to find a job and settle down, to a more recent moment with his own daughter telling him she wants to be an actress. That led to “You’ll Never Be This Young Again.” For this one, Radoslav played a keyboard that was placed on top of the piano, delivering some wonderful stuff. At times, he also played piano. This was a fun, cheerful rendition. Seriously, there was a joy to this whole show, a sort of gentle joy, a friendly and uplifting vibe.

"You'll Never Be This Young Again"

Radoslav then moved to the accordion, and Ellis took over on piano. As Ellis picked up his wine glass, someone in the audience called out, “Cheers.” Again, not a shy crowd. And so it was easy for Ellis to build a good rapport with them. They were ready for it, ready to take part. “I have a new album,” he told them. “I don’t know if you folks even know who the hell I am, but it’s my twenty-third album.”  And he played what is perhaps the best song from 55, “Holy.” It is a beautiful song, always a highlight of any set he plays. And when he finished it, I heard at least a couple of people in the audience say, “Beautiful.” That was followed by “Kick Out The Lights,” with Ellis back on guitar and Rad back on piano. Ellis announced that it was an audience participation song. “The way it works is if you’re not embarrassing the person sitting next to you, you’re not trying hard enough.” Interestingly, the audience participation part was not divided by gender, as it used to be. Rather than having the men shout “Kick out the lights” and the women shout “Johnny Cash, Johnny Cash, Johnny Cash,” this time everyone did what was previously the women’s part, with Ellis shouting “Kick out the lights.” Whatever their part, this crowd was totally into it. And Radoslav delivered some great stuff on piano, even before that fantastic lead. The energy was certainly high on this number.


“Maria’s Beautiful Mess” is one that Ellis plays fairly regularly, but also one I am always happy to hear. Last night Ellis delivered an especially nice rendition of what is one of his best songs. It felt fresh, it felt alive, with slightly different phrasing in the vocal approach. It was another highlight of the set. Ellis Paul and Radoslav then stepped off the stage and came down into the audience for their cover of John Prine’s “Angel From Montgomery.” Radoslav was on accordion, and the audience sang along on the chorus, sounding good. Some folks even clapped along at a certain point, mainly during Rad’s lead. After that lead, Ellis remarked, “This is the happiest version of this song ever played.” Yes, indeed. It was just that kind of night. They returned to the stage for “55,” the title track from the new album, to wrap up the first set. “It’s about turning 55,” Ellis said during the introduction, and someone called out, “It’s been a while.” Not a shy crowd. Did I mention that? I love it. Yes, for some of the people in the audience, 55 was firmly in the past. And the crowd audibly responded to the first line, the mention of 8 track tapes. This song worked particularly well following “Angel From Montgomery” because its lyrics mention John Prine. The first set ended at 9:50 p.m.

"Kick Out The Lights"

By 10:02, Ellis and Radoslav were back on stage for the second set. That was one brief set break. Ellis opened the set with “Drive-In Movie,” the song sounding so sweet and so pretty as it began. What a good vocal performance! Radoslav played keyboard on this one. Ellis realized he needed a guitar pick, and asked if anyone had one. “You need a pick?” Dan Navarro asked from within the audience, and soon took one up to him. However, Ellis dropped the pick partway through “Alice’s Champagne Palace.” Not only that, but he also broke a string. There was a time when Ellis would recite a poem while changing a string. Not last night. “Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Radoslav Lorkovic,” he said, and then unplugged his guitar while changing the string, and Radoslav delivered a wonderful piano solo. It was obviously an unexpected moment, and it ended up being a treat. The crowd cheered when the guitar came back in. “We’re on an adventure,” Ellis remarked. “And sometimes shit happens. And sometimes it’s embracing it, is what the thing you should do is, is just to embrace it.” Everyone in the room was on the same page.

And speaking of shit happening, Ellis Paul next played “Five Alarm Fire On The 4th Of July,” which is about a day when shit certainly happened with his extended family back in 1979. The song had a somewhat gentler beginning than usual, which was nice. Once again, there such a good vibe to this show. The audience sang along on that little nod to “We Are Family” at the end of that song. Ellis followed that with “The Gift,” a song from 55, first telling the story about the gift in question, the one that inspired the song, coming from Patty Griffin. Ellis and Radoslav came out into the audience again for the last couple of songs of the set, with Rad playing accordion. The first of those songs was “Gold In California,” another from 55. Before playing it, Ellis mentioned how they’ve traveled all over, and this was his favorite new place. “Come back,” a guy called out. “Well, they’ve got to hire me back, but if they do, I’m coming back,” Ellis responded. ”And I’m bringing this guy with me.” “Gold In California” was, of course, a good song choice for a show in southern California. Ellis has often been inspired by this state. And the song sounded great last night. He wrapped up the show with a good cover of “Over The Rainbow.” A sweet ending to a wonderful show. The set ended at 10:41 p.m. There was no encore.

Set List

Set I

  1. I Ain’t No Jesus
  2. You’ll Never Be This Young Again
  3. Holy
  4. Kick Out The Lights
  5. Maria’s Beautiful Mess
  6. Angel From Montgomery
  7. 55

Set II

  1. Drive-In Movie
  2. Alice’s Champagne Palace
  3. Five Alarm Fire On The 4th Of July
  4. The Gift
  5. Gold In California
  6. Over The Rainbow

The Grand Annex is located at 434 W. 6th St. in San Pedro, California.

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