Sunday, January 1, 2012
One Longfellow Square, Portland, Maine
I love Ellis Paul. No one who knows me will be surprised to hear that he is my favorite musician touring today. I first saw him at Pickard Theater at Bowdoin College (my alma mater) in Brunswick, Maine on March 30, 2002 at the recommendation of one of my friends from Bowdoin’s Residential Life staff. I was hooked. Ellis is a phenomenal songwriter. He writes in a narrative style that makes listeners feel like we are right there living in whatever vignette he’s exploring in his song. I knew immediately that I wanted to see Ellis again and again, and I discovered that he plays back-to-back New Year’s Eve shows every year at the incredible Club Passim in Harvard Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I’ve attended his New Year’s Eve show there seven times with fabulous friends. It’s surely been one of my favorite traditions in my life.
This year, though, my friends and I were not able to make the show together. Our friends Lizzie and Dave welcomed their first child into the world just weeks before the Club Passim show—welcome, Caroline! This year, Ellis on New Year’s Eve was not to be. Ellis and his friends Radoslav Lorkovic, Don Conoscenti, and Michael Clem have played at the intimate and fabulous One Longfellow Square in Portland, Maine on New Year’s Day for the last two or three consecutive years. One Longfellow Square is a beautiful, small venue and is now a non-profit and I’m a member. I was really happy to be able to see Ellis and friends at OLS so close to home to start off my year. Check out One Longfellow Square here. You won’t be disappointed!
My friend Michelle and I grabbed a great Thai dinner before the show and were joined at OLS by Jason, Max, and Sophie. We got there just after doors opened and were only able to get five seats together in the sixth row. The show was sold out and people arrived early to get a good spot. Ellis is a Maine favorite as he’s a Maine native living far from home these days. When Michelle and I found seats, the woman sitting in front of us with her family was quite chatty. She had also seen Ellis a month or so before at Slates in Hallowell, Maine (just four miles from my house)—a show Michelle and I had also attended. She was so excited to see Ellis and called herself his number one fan. At some point, though, it came out that this was my 37th Ellis Paul show. I was dubbed “Ellis’ number one fan.” Any Ellis fan reading this obviously knows I am not his number one fan. He has quite a lot of people who claim that title and I am happy to share!
Peyton Tochterman, who Ellis discovered playing at a wine bar in Virginia, opened the show. We’d seen him in November, too. He reminds me of Maine musician, David Mallett. He exudes country—songs of villain/heroes and love and loss. He was significantly more entertaining on this night—I think he’s hit his comfort zone touring with such seasoned professionals. He told a hilarious story about his neighbor who bought his daughter a rifle for her fourth birthday. I promise the story is funnier than alarming. He also said his neighbor (the same one, I think) has a tattoo of a JEEP with the word “JEEP” tattooed underneath it. He asked if Mainers could relate and a woman in the front row said she’d gotten a pink rifle when she was younger. Peyton also told the story of how he written the first part of his album while recovering from surgery after Kenny G’s piano fell on him when he worked as a roadie. Yes, really. He has a sense of humor about it now, saying it couldn’t have been Elton John’s or Billy Joel’s piano but Kenny G’s. He was in a dark place when he wrote his EP—good fodder for country/folk music, really—and when Ellis heard him at the wine bar, he offered Peyton songwriting help and really pushed him to record and mentored him through the creation of a full-length album.
Ellis, Rad, DonCon, and Michael Clem took the stage after seven shows in three days. They were no worse for wear and put on a great show. They played “3,000 Miles” and “Maria’s Beautiful Mess”—Ellis classics—but also a couple of new songs from Ellis’ just-released family album, The Hero in You. I really, really like the song about Chief Joseph and love the concept of intelligent songs for kids about important people like Rosa Parks and Benjamin Franklin. He also played a newer song about Johnny Cash called “Kick Out the Lights,” which is my friend Michelle’s favorite and has a great audience participation part.
Roy Orbison’s wife, Barbara, who recently passed away on the anniversary of Roy’s death, had asked musicians to record Roy’s songs. Ellis donned a pair of sunglasses and played a beautiful rendition of “Crying.” The band rocked out during the annual cover songs portion of the evening (last year included “Don’t Stop Believin’,” which was amazing!)—playing “Across the Universe” and “American Girl.”
The ongoing story of the night was about an incredible and expensive guitar that Ellis had played for a couple of shows but decided it would be crazy to buy. Later, when he decided to go for it, the guitar he loved had just been bought by Neil Young for his wife.
Fast forward to another fabulous and expensive guitar in Oklahoma that Ellis played during his shows there. When the owner told him Neil Young was coming in soon, Ellis pulled out his credit card and bought the guitar (which he was playing at the OLS show). When Ellis broke a string and proceeded to fix it himself during the course of a song which he continued to sing without missing a beat, Michael Clem hollered out “I bet Neil Young couldn’t do that.” A lot of camaraderie on stage that night.
As per tradition, Ellis and the guys unplugged and came out to play in the audience— they did “The World Ain’t Slowing Down” in the audience and wrapped up the night back on stage with “Annalee” and “Hurricane Angel” as an encore. It was a beautiful night, a great start to 2012, and I’m excited for my 38th Ellis show!