Robert Ellis, The Southern Virtuoso, Visits San Francisco
This past Friday, March 28, the ever-under-appreciated Robert Ellis brought to San Francisco his musical elixir of Americana and Country Western. Being from the South originally, I always enjoy a show that brings a little taste of home to the Bay Area. Ellis and his band are definitive Southern virtuosic instrumentalists — so much show that at times it almost takes away from Ellis’ heartfelt and authentic songwriting. Almost, but not quite.
Robert Ellis is currently on tour with Wild Child, who opened the sold-out show at The Chapel in San Francisco. While waiting in line for my will-call tickets, surrounded by disappointed teens with paint-streaked faces who couldn’t get in, I found myself becoming a little confused. Was this the new audience Robert Ellis’ new record, The Lights From the Chemical Plant, had garnered? My question was answered upon walking into the venue and witnessing the crazed sing-alongs happening during the opener’s set.
I had never heard of Wild Child before, but now I’m sure I’ll find them hard to forget. I knew I was in for a strange night when I was forcefully asked to move over by a wheelchair-stricken elderly lady in the back of the general admission venue. The weirdness continued at the conclusion of Wild Child’s set, when the crowd refused to allow them to finish without an encore. Said encore materialized with an acoustic performance in the audience by singers Kelsey Wilson and Alexander Beggins, and was followed up by a mass exodus of the majority of the concert attendees.
They had no idea what they were about to miss. Ellis handled the situation beautifully (having no-doubt had practice in previous performances on the tour with Wild Child). He and his band embraced the strange nature of the evening and embarked upon a set filled with nonchalantly rousing tunes. It may seem melodramatic, but his show reminded me of how fleeting moments of ultimate happiness can be. After the way this evening had begun, there was no pressure on the band or anxiety in the audience. Everyone was simply pleased to be in the spot they were in, sipping the drink they had in their hand, listening to the amazing musicians they were listening to.
Robert Ellis is a great and unique songwriter, but he is also an amazing guitarist. Watching him finger dumbfounding riffs and licks is both painful and enlightening — painful to see just how far a human being can stretch their fingers and enlightening to hear the types of sounds a guitar can produce in the hands of a master. He surrounds himself with a rhythm section, second guitarist and pedal steel player that rival his abilities. One of my favorite parts of the set, though, is when he sent his mates off the stage to play a few on his own.
The short set of solo songs Ellis performed brought to mind where he’s been in the past and where he’s potentially going. I remember seeing Phosphorescent at The Fillmore a while back doing the same thing, and it’s not so unrealistic to believe Robert Ellis could be sharing much more in common with this exploding act than just a similarly structured live show. With his talent and warm nature on stage, I don’t think it will be long before his shows are held in venues such as the The Fillmore around the country, filled to the brim with crazed acolytes wherever he goes. However, I don’t imagine his super-fans will go the route of painted faces.