Whenever I see a show at Joe’s Pub, I always get seated in the corner furthest away from the performers; thanks to this, I can only recognize Ute Lemper when she’s 30 feet away. Since I’ve only seen Ellis Paul once before, at the Boston Folk Festival, when he was 50 feet away, this is a distinct improvement.
Ellis comes out a few minutes after 7 and sits down at the piano. “My body is literally still driving down here from Boston,” he apologizes, “so hopefully my fingers will catch up with my playing.” He does Summertime and “a new song, Holy Ghost,” which I think I remember him doing at the Boston Folk Festival.
“I think I’m almost here,” Ellis says as he reaches for his guitar, “I can feel myself hanging over my back, so it looks like my drive down is almost over.” He introduces his band: on keyboard and accordion, Radislav Lorkoviç (whom I’ve seen play with so many other people that I can’t remember who I’ve seen him play with) and on guitar, Don Conoscenti, who kicks guitar ass for the entire night. They do Maria's Beautiful Mess, Alice's Champagne Palace, Take All The Sky You Need, and 3000 Miles, but for me at least the highlight is Jukebox On My Grave, which is that rare mix of mournful and celebratory at the same time.
(And is it just me, or does Ellis look exactly like The Dude with his beard shaved off? I can so see him doing the Broadway musical version of Lebowski Exclamation Point.)
Then we get a song from The Dragonfly Races, Ellis’ children’s album, a song called Road Trip.
ELLIS: I was in California a couple of days ago, and flew back for a show, and I didn’t realize my cellphone was still on West Coast time. I woke up this morning in Boston totally relaxed, plenty of time, until I realized that my cellphone was an hour behind. Then all hell broke loose. [Laughter.] We headed south, but we didn’t have a GPS. So we called for directions from the road, and somebody says “Head south on the West Side Drive and take a left on Houston.” [Beat] Houston goes one way in the opposite direction. [Big laugh, and the hostess in gray, who’s watching from a side chair, calls out “I’m sorry!”] So we ended up on Canal, and swung around, . . .
. . . and then he’s into the opening of the song, talking about all the places on the Road Trip, and there are enough New York locations that you can so totally see the poor guy trying to get to Lafayette Street and Astor Place via the Grand Canyon, New Orleans, and Yosemite Park.
The guys do Black Top Train, then Ellis solos on Million Chameleon March, which he did at the BFF. Here the line about getting the president to change gets such a spontaneous round of applause that it almost stops the show. He does Home, then calls the band back for The World Ain't Slowing Down:
ELLIS: This next one if from a Jim Carey movie. [Scattered applause.] Me Myself and Irene. [No applause. Did anybody actually see this movie?] I wrote this with someone who didn’t like the word ain’t. “It’s not a word,” she said. Well, that ain’t no big deal. [Laughter] ‘Cause the world ain’t slowin’ down. [Laughter] And that ain’t bought my house. [Big laugh.]
The band does one more song together (The Wabi-Sabi Song, from Dragonfly) and Ellis solos on its adult version, The Day After Everything Changed, before bringing the band back for This Land Is Your Land, which is one of those “If you’ve never heard his version of it, then you’ve never heard this song” covers.
The encore is Little Wood Guitar, a Christmas song which is being covered by a country band called Sugarland on an EP.
Great show. And what great show would be complete without an awkward after-show moment. I went up to Ellis backstage (well, at the foot of the steps to the Men’s Room) and shook his hand and thanked him and then introduced myself by saying “I’m Monica’s brother.” And there was this wonderful “Do I know who he’s talking about? I’m not sure so I should say yes” look in his eyes as he said “Oh yeah? Great.”
MATTHEW: I think she saw you last night in Boston.
ELLIS: [same look] Yeah, she did. Great meeting you.
And I didn’t say, “We met at the Boston Folk Festival when my sister introduced us,” because I know if I toured as much as he does, I’d be hard-pressed to remember all my lyrics, never mind who comes to see my shows in Somerville.