Saturday, December 29, 2012
One Longfellow Square, Portland, Maine
I was especially excited about this Ellis Paul show (my 39th) because my best friend Meg (who lives in Panama) had never seen him before. We’d tried to go to a New Year’s Eve show together at Club Passim once, but a friend got sick on the T on the way to the show and we had to go straight home. It was heartbreaking.
Meg’s manfriend Andreas was visiting from Germany, so we met up at Asmara for Eritrean food in Portland before the show. It was really snowing, and we had a frigid walk to One Longfellow Square. OLS was pretty full when we got there well before the show started (you know how I like to be close), but we were able to snag three seats together in the second row on the aisle. I scanned the room and saw some familiar Ellis fans. I noticed a woman sitting front and center who I could tell right away was a super fan. I leaned over and told Meg that she’d find a way to talk to Ellis on stage in the first five minutes of his set. I totally called it.
Heather Maloney opened the show after the first introduction I’d ever seen at OLS that prominently featured a juice box. Originally from New Jersey and now living in Northampton, Mass., I was surprised when she told us that she’d never seen Ellis live before. The thing I remember most about her set was that her mom is a therapist and it’s influenced Heather’s life and songs.
I liked “Nightstand Drawer,” her four-string parlor sized guitar, voice, and vocal range. She was a good fingerpicker, too. She wrote “Dirt & Stardust” about a female rambler while staying in a friend’s guest room with ugly wood paneling. I appreciated her shout out to her hardworking single mom who’d gone to school to become a psychotherapist while receiving welfare assistance for a couple of years. She intended for “Grace” to be an angry response to a Tea Party supporter she’d seen holding up a sign chastising people receiving public assistance, but it turned into a kinder song about her mom and hardworking moms everywhere.
At some point I realized Heather sounded a bit like Ani DiFranco. I liked her new song, “Rubbernecker” (it’s working title). She was very grateful to us for being a listening audience and was excited for her first Ellis show. She joked (but it was true because of the weather) that she’d risked her life to get to the show. The roads were starting to get bad on my drive to Portland. I wasn’t looking forward to my drive home at all. I liked “Turn Yourself Around,” a song inspired by a sleepless night and a list she’d written of all of the reasons she was a bad person. I especially enjoyed her last song, “No Shortcuts,” which was a cappella and included some audience participation in the form of percussion a la “We Will Rock You.” It was her best song. Check her music out here.
Ellis took the stage and revealed early on both that he had a cold and that this was his rehearsal with Don Conoscenti (who’d traveled from Taos, New Mexico) and Radoslav Lorkovic (who’d come from Chicago) for their annual New Year’s Eve shows in Cambridge, Mass. at Club Passim. I’ve written a couple of posts this year about Ellis. I saw him on January 1st, 2012—a great way to start the year right, I thought, and again in September. I was excited to bookend 2012 with Ellis shows.
Before the show, I chatted with a couple that was also at the Ellis show in January of 2004 at the Chocolate Church in Bath when the pipes were frozen and there was no heat. It was fun to reminisce about the show. I remember going out to my car during the intermission to grab my emergency car blanket. Ellis pointed me with my blanket out to the audience during the second half of his show and chuckled. I wouldn’t have sat through a show under those circumstances for anyone else.
I think Ellis sounded far better than he thought he did. He opened with a “Chasing Beauty,” which will be on his new fan funded album (I’ve already sent in my check and you can, too). He played a song I’d never heard before—a new one about the Empire State Building. “Snow in Austin” was next and he talked about his new Christmas album, City of Silver Dreams, that is just out and that he spent five years writing.
We got to sing along on “3,000 Miles,” and “Alice’s Champagne Palace.” He’d just played at Alice’s Champagne Palace in Homer, Alaska and the lyrics to the song are above the bar. “Rose Tattoo” was up next. It was certainly by that point in the evening when I’d lost patience with the surely well intentioned woman front and center—the Ellis super fan. I love Ellis. I’ve been to 39 Ellis shows. I do not need the audience to pay attention to me during one of his shows, though. CONCERT ETTIQUETTE TIP: Please, please, please—do NOT sing along except when the artist has asked you to. NO ONE paid to come listen to you. If I’d been sitting any closer, I definitely would have asked her to cut it out. Ellis joked with her later in the show that if he forgot any of the lyrics, he’d just look to her because she was a human teleprompter (imagine that), but if he couldn’t read her lips (I doubt it), he would just pick up her cue because she was singing along the whole time. Ugh.
“Walking After Midnight” was up next. Team Ellis ran a video contest a few years ago asking people to make and submit videos for that song. I think this one was the winner. Ellis, Don, and Rad always perform a few covers for the New Year’s Eve shows, but options were limited for them because of Ellis’ cold. They played just one this year for us at the practice show, Dave Loggins’ “Please Come to Boston.” We all enjoyed the verse they added to include Portland in the song—it referenced 20 inches of snow, Three Dollar Deweys, and Shipyard beer. I especially liked the song because Don and Rad each took a verse—both are talented singers, even if we don’t hear a lot of lead vocals from them.
Don Con hit the high notes for Ellis on “Maria’s Beautiful Mess,” which I think is one of his best-loved songs. I really love “Mary, Mary” from City of Silver Dreams. It’s a lovely song about Mary (you know, Jesus’ mother), who Ellis said “doesn’t get enough credit.” I particularly like the lyric “Born to a mad world/Weren’t you once a young girl?” They played my friend Michelle’s favorite, “Kick Out the Lights,” next—a song about when Johnny Cash famously kicked out the stage footlights at the Grand Ole Opry.
I was thrilled to see that Rad’s beloved accordion was back in his arms again. It’s a long story, but it was stolen, there was a reward, and it was recently returned to him after many months apart. Check out the story here. They played “Hurricane Angel” next (my students and I just talked about Hurricane Katrina in class yesterday, actually) and then “The World Ain’t Slowin’ Down,” which required more audience participation. Ellis joked with the woman in the front row that he knew he could count on her to sing (insert story about the human teleprompter from above here). He sort of jokingly asked her if she’d be there to help him out at the New Year’s Eve shows (obviously, yes!). When he asked if anyone else would be there, there were crickets. I went for it. He did ask, right? I said that I wouldn’t be there this year, but that I’d gone for eight years. He wanted a good reason why I’d skip such a good time. I pointed at Meg and Andreas visiting from Panama and Germany, respectively. It turned into the multicultural portion of the evening. Ellis asked Andreas if he could understand the show (how considerate), which he could (I hope). Ellis asked Rad to say something in his native Croatian to show how international they were onstage. Rad told us (in Croatian) that his grandfather had studied in Berlin. Don Con spoke in Italian. Ellis joked that he was from Presque Isle, Maine, but had English down.
Ellis, Don Con, and Rad unplugged and came out into the audience to play a couple last songs for us. “Annalee” was first. Ellis welcomed people who’d traveled for the show—people from Chicago, “obviously Panama and Germany,” his niece (who he reminded to stop by and say hi after the show), and people from the County (his homeland). They wrapped up their set with “Christmas Lullaby,” a song I hadn’t heard before that Johnny Mathis might put on his next Christmas album. It’s always great to see Ellis, Don Con, and Rad, and it was a great show to wrap up 2012 with.