Monday, November 20, 2023

Ellis Paul at McCabe’s, 11-18-23 Concert Review

On Saturday, Ellis Paul returned to the stage at McCabe’s in Santa Monica for the first time since the pandemic began, and delivered a fun, energetic set to a packed house. He was joined by Radoslav Lorkovic on piano, keyboard, accordion and backing vocals, and the two played some material from Ellis Paul’s newest album, 55, along with some older favorites. As at the show the previous night, Ellis played one of Dan Navarro’s guitars because his guitar (named Guinness) had been damaged again during the flight and was being repaired by the good folks at McCabe’s. And as at that San Pedro show, Dan Navarro was again in the audience. This time he got up to sing with Ellis at one point.

Opening the show was Alice Peacock, who came out on stage at 8 p.m. and immediately established a strong rapport with the crowd. “Free And Wild,” a song from her latest album, Minnesota, was a highlight. In introducing the song, she talked about her children, and how her son tells her not to sing, which got a laugh from the crowd. But the song has a sweet vibe. “Lucky to have someone in my life who shows me what's real/And what's true/All the things that I'm learning loving you/Someday I’ll have to let you go/Someday I’ll have to trust that you can do it on your own.” I glanced at my girlfriend after those lines, and wished her son had been with us to hear them. Alice switched to piano for a couple of songs, including “Taught Me Well,” which was inspired by Henry Diltz, who shot the cover for one of her albums. The line “I thank my lucky stars every day I’m not your wife” got a big laugh. This was another highlight of her set, as was the more somber song that followed it, “Time.” Several folks then shouted out requests, and Alice asked if they’d prefer a happy or sad song. Happy was the consensus, and so she played “Bliss.”

Ellis Paul started his set at 8:42 p.m., jumping right into things with a rousing rendition of “3,000 Miles.” No easing in at this show. Radoslav was rocking the piano, especially during his lead, and there was a great energy to Ellis Paul’s delivery. The crowd sang along, and there was a good deal of joy in the room. Ellis joked, “I’d like to introduce the band,” but it did feel like there was a whole band on that stage after that fiery start to the show. He then talked about how it was odd having Radoslav’s back to him because of the position of the upright piano stage left. “It’s kind of awkward, isn’t it?” Radoslav agreed, then suggested, “I think we need a rear view mirror.” They followed “3,000 Miles” with “Maria’s Beautiful Mess,” one of my favorite Ellis Paul songs. It was a really good rendition, building in power, those sections having a particularly strong energy. The musicians were generating some heat, no question, and after that song Ellis took off his jacket, joking “It’s an adult show, we’re going to slowly strip as we go.”

Ellis mentioned the new album, which received applause from the crowd, and there was some funny banter between him and a couple of people in the audience. Ellis then sat down at the piano, while Radoslav picked up the accordion, and they delivered the beautiful “Holy.” This song is my personal favorite from 55, and it works for me every time. They followed that with “Kick Out The Lights,” bringing the energy up again with a song requiring audience participation. “So the way this works is a call-and-answer thing. I’m going to shout out, ‘Kick out the lights!’ And you’re going to shout back to me, ‘Johnny Cash, Johnny Cash, Johnny Cash.’” They gave it a go, and Ellis told them, “That’s not bad, that’s not bad, but, listen, last night in San Pedro it was amazing.” True. He then encouraged them to be louder than the crowd from that show at The Grand Annex. So they tried it again, and this time the audience was quite a bit louder, and the song was underway. It was a ridiculously fun rendition, and you can be sure that Radoslav was milking his lead, standing up while playing, rocking those keys and having a great time doing it. And the audience responded enthusiastically. This was a highlight of the set.

Ellis then played “I Ain’t No Jesus,” the song he’d opened with the night before. This time Ellis included an introduction about the writing of the song. That was followed by “You’ll Never Be This Young Again,” with Radoslav playing both keyboard and piano. There was a cheerful, bouncy energy to the song at this show. Ellis and Radoslav went down into the audience for “Gold In California,” Rad playing accordion for this one. Before starting the song, Ellis mentioned how his guitar was in the process of being repaired and he was borrowing a guitar from Dan Navarro, who was seated three rows back. “He gave me this guitar forever,” Ellis joked. It was a sweet rendition of “Gold In California,” the audience singing the word “California” and sounding great. Ellis Paul added a part about how the people at this show, people in California, are luckier than people in other states. They followed that with “This Is Where All Good Trees Go.” This is a song that Ellis improvised at a show at McCabe’s back in 2011, and then shockingly remembered it when he played there again. As far as I know, it’s a song that he plays only at McCabe’s since it’s about that venue. At this show, it was a very short rendition, approximately a minute long. They then delivered a cover of John Prine’s “Angel From Montgomery.” At the previous show, Ellis remarked that it was “happiest version of this song ever played.” Well, at McCabe’s, during Radoslav’s accordion lead, they began jumping in unison, the audience clapping along. And Dan Navarro stood up and took a verse, the audience still clapping. So, I don’t know, but I think this version was even better, and even more cheerful than the one in San Pedro. The audience sang along on the chorus. It was a fantastic moment, and someone in the audience said as much. “I wish I wrote it,” Ellis responded. “Did you think the rest of the songs were okay?

Ellis Paul and Radoslav Lorkovic returned to the stage for “55,” the title track from the new album. This is another of my favorites from that album. It won’t be all that long before I’m 55, I suppose, which is crazy, and holds part of the song’s appeal. Radoslav played both keyboard and piano on this one. The song had a pretty ending. Ellis followed that with “Five Alarm Fire On The 4th Of July,” delivering a particularly sweet rendition. The audience sang along with that nod to “We Are Family” at the end. And then there was a good energy to “The Gift” at this show. Ellis wrapped up the set with another spirited number, “Alice’s Champagne Palace.” He began the set with an energetic number, and likewise closed it with one. It was a seriously good set. The encore was “Over The Rainbow,” which was performed in the audience. A beautiful and gentle way to close the show. The show ended at 10:15 p.m.

Set List

  1. 3,000 Miles
  2. Maria’s Beautiful Mess
  3. Holy
  4. Kick Out The Lights
  5. I Ain’t No Jesus
  6. You’ll Never Be This Young Again
  7. Gold In California
  8. This Is Where All Good Trees Go
  9. Angel From Montgomery
  10. 55
  11. Five Alarm Fire On The 4th Of July
  12. The Gift
  13. Alice’s Champagne Palace


  1. Over The Rainbow

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

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