Concert Review: Robert Ellis – Hotel Utah – Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Hotel Utah saloon , located South of Market near the waterfront and off a feeder from the Bay Bridge, wreaks history along with the usual bar fragrances.The saloon was built in 1908 and one the watering hole for  opium dealers, gamblers, bible-thumpers, police, longshoremen, this was a place of history and an apt venue for a Ellis and his band’s Bay Area debut.

Ellis has been winning accolades from the New York Times and American Songwriter , but aside from all the positive ink (pixels?) Ellis and his excellent band are making their mark the old-school way – steady home gigs and hitting the and taking the show on the asphalt ribbon.

I talked to Ellis , who looks like he could front a metal band but belies that image with his thoughtful and soft-spoken manner as he sips a Jameson neat. We talked about life on the road and the bands first trip to California, the current state of Bluegrass and the Majesty that is George Jones. Ellis was brought up in Houston surrounded by music. His mother taught piano and the last few years he’s paid for his biscuits by teaching Taylor Swift songs to kids (which he enjoys) and paid his live music dues covering classic country playing the legendary Fitzgerald’s club in Houston every Wednesday night.

Ellis and The Boys  -  Kelly Doyle – guitar, Geoffrey Muller – Bass, Will Van Horn – pedal steel and Ryan Chavez – drums – took the stage at about 9:45 PM to a small but enthusiastic audience and commenced to run through a set featuring many songs from their upcoming New West release Photographs (7/5)

The sparse crowd were caiught up in the band as they slid from classic honky-tonk (Comin’ Home and I’ll Never Give Up On You) to psychedelic edged country rock jams to Tin-Pan Alleys grooves (Two Cans Of Paint). The great thing about the band was the ability to squeeze a great amount of diversity while still coloring within familiar genre lines. Through the sonic twists and turns Ellis’ voice anchors it all with a sound near a Jimmie Dale Gilmore keen blended Harry Nilsson folk nuance.

After plying the band with a round of Jameson they humored me by seamlessly breaking into a reverent version of the Possum’s tear-in-my beer A Good Day for the Roses followed by a rousing version of The Race is On. That’s what I call a damn great band!

Check these guys out when they hit your town and look for great things from them in the future.

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