Robert Ellis @ The Bell House, 07/13/11
Surrounded by concrete floors, a red-curtained stage and massive rustic chandeliers, for a moment I thought I had mistakenly stepped into a Texas dance hall. The Bell House in Brooklyn, a venue that boasts a proper dose of attitude and flair, is a welcome departure from the usual dive bars and concert hall options in NYC. The audience was diverse, a testament to the cross-generational and cross-genre sounds of Ellis’ music. A mix of older and younger folk, hipsters and honky tonks (yes, I just used that phrase to describe a person instead of a place) the common denominator was the enthusiasm for high quality music.
Ellis and his band took the stage clad in western wear, with cowboy shirts, cowboy boots, one cowboy hat and good old fashioned southern charm to top it all off.
Ellis opened with “West Bound Train,” his, calm clear voice gliding effortlessly over the reflective lyrics as he commanded the audience’s attention (even the rowdy ones, you know, the “I talk a lot louder when I drink beer” ones). In “Comin’ Home,” an upbeat tune brimming with liveliness and character, the band traded eights, giving each musician his own time to shine; the audience was already hooked, yelling for each band member while stomping their feet and singing along. Ellis and his band showcased their versatility yet again when they rocked out on “Good Intentions,” an expertly crafted fusion of country, rock and straight up sass (and I’m using that word in the most masculine context). The electric guitarist had a field day with this song, exhibiting his prowess in an unpretentious manner. At this point, the yells and hollers had increased both in decibel level and in frequency, as the audience – myself included- was seemingly helpless when it came to controlling their encouraging outbursts.
Each song, no matter the tempo or tone, was precise, showcasing the adeptness of the band as a whole and each band member as an individual musician; these boys know their stuff. There was no theatrics, no dramatic flair (until the last song, when Ellis flung his long hair around whilst he ripped on the guitar, which to be honest, I had been secretly hoping for), just mega-talented musicians happy to perform for an appreciative audience.
Ellis and his band were pitch perfect, spot on, endearing and engaging. The set ended too soon, leaving me – and most of the audience, judging by the level of applause – yearning for a few more outburst-inducing songs.