New Year’s Eve with Ellis Paul, Neil Young and the Orthodontist
There was no dawdling involved. We opted for an early dinner at Capital Grille where the last available table sat window side and offered a full view of the whimsical dragons, pageantry and bright smiles of Boston’s First Night parade. After dinner I did a furtive striptease in the parking garage, exchanging polyester for sequins while the motor idled, one eye on the rearview mirror and with a delicious sense of daring. My date claimed to enjoy the pre-show.
The timing was good; forty-five minutes ahead of show time, and fifteen minutes before the doors were scheduled to open, we pahked the cah in Hahvard Yahd and headed for Club Passim. There we were surprised to find that early is the new late; general admission seating was nearly full and the room was abuzz with anticipation. My sequins shimmied in faint protest as we squeezed into two of the tightly packed chairs on the room’s right side.
We then learned that it has been seventeen years; Ellis Paul has performed at the Club on New Year’s Eve for seventeen consecutive years. When asked, several attendees happily confessed that they had been in the audience for at least five of those years. Tonight they planned to keep their seats for both the 7 and 10 p.m. sold-out shows.
The Club lives in an unadorned basement room. Simple, unframed artwork splashes intermittent color on the walls, but the exposed poles and baseboard heaters create an ambience that is college dormitory meets children’s playroom. It is a stretch to remember that folk music greats including Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Tom Waits, Tom Rush and Bonnie Raitt have grown and perfected their craft in that room, but then Ellis Paul takes the stage.
He opens with “Rose Tattoo” and soon pays tribute to Roy and Barbara Orbison with a stunning version of “Crying”, resplendent in dark shades. The set is punctuated with charm and humor as Ellis converses with an audience full of best friends, some of whose names he knows. Early in the show he stops to acknowledge the unseen audience watching the show’s livestream on the internet. “Hi……..you were too cheap to buy tickets?” he asks with a smile. We all shout “Happy New Year!” to the web and the good times roll.
This is the first time that I’ve seen Ellis perform with a band. On other occasions I’ve watched him hold an audience’s rapt attention for nearly two hours with only his voice and a guitar. Tonight he is joined by longtime musician friends who share his easy but practiced performance style and quirky sense of humor. Radoslav Yorkovic smiles broadly on keys and is recognized by at least one audience member with a T shirt that reads “Got Rad?” Don Conoscenti plays a quiet guitar until called upon to solo, and then sparks fly. Michael Clem is sexy and saucy on bass. There is good natured teasing interspersed with music, and stories that delight and include the audience.
One of those stories involves Ellis’ new Taylor guitar, the one with horses that stampede up the fretboard. It wasn’t his first love. No, there was another guitar that he visited, admired and coveted. That was a guitar with a price meant for a dentist, not a musician. When the longing grew too great and he finally decided to purchase, the guitar was gone. Neil Young had bought it. Some time later, the Taylor caught his eye in a vintage guitar shop. The price tag was surely meant for an orthodontist, not a musician?! Ellis asked the Oklahoma shop owner how he could afford to keep such goods on hand. The reply? Oh, we get the big names, too, why Neil Young is coming……
The evening was filled with Ellis Paul’s original music, alternately sensitive and thought provoking or fun and inventive, but always smooth and melodic, crossing borders between folk, pop, and country soul. Performed with warmth and emotion, the songs resonated with an appreciative audience. The evening ended with a standing ovation, but not before the audience heard the good news. Ellis’ new family album The Hero in You will be available via digital outlets in January 2012. A new holiday album is anticipated late in 2012.
The following videos were captured at the Club Passim New Year’s Eve show . The first, “Maria’s Beautiful Mess”, is a favorite Ellis Paul original. The second, “Mary”, is a new Christmas song that may be included on the forthcoming album. Enjoy!
Coming later this month: an indepth look at the new family album The Hero in You.