One more at the Rock Shop (Hit me baby one more time)
The little club at the bottom of the slope has been good to Ellis Ashbrook. Since premiering there not long ago, there have been a number of standout shows. The most recent, and final show of the Summer, was no exception; serving as the prelude to a much anticipated return to the Space Palace a mere two weeks later. This recap is coming in after all the smoke has cleared on that event, but always the completest, I would be remiss if I didn’t briefly comment and provide a setlist for those who want to remember, and those others who couldn’t make it.
Additionally, this show was the first Ellis Ashbrook experience for my dad, who knows of the band through conversations he and I have had about my life, as these are my friends, but had not much exposure to the music itself. I think this was intentional on my part. My father is a consummate music lover, having attended countless concerts from Frank Zappa to Miles Davis to Dizzy Gillespie to Herbie Hancock to Sun Ra to Isaac Stern to Itzak Perlman to Yo Yo Ma to Steely Dan to Rush and so on. He not only loves music, he loves good music… really good music. Additionally, he is a highly educated and unabashed critic of all things. He’s also a native New Yorker, living in this city for 72 years, surrounded by the best the world has to offer for as long as he can remember. Naturally, he would approach this band as I did – with dubious caution. Going only on my recommendation, which in his mind is surely biased by my friends, my strategy was to bring him with confidence, and let the music speak for itself. On this night the music did. And in that spirit, I will let his assessment influence the recap:
*They started out slow… it seemed like they were struggling a bit, as if the song was not comfortable. I expected a typical bar show: Some dancing, a lot of drinking, and mostly forgettable background music. This seemed to hold true through the opening number, but changed immediately after when things started clicking and the music started progressing. The bar band had faded to the back and in its place, something eclectic and unique was happening. Genres were mixing, an interplay of rock sensibility and funk groove took hold, and suddenly, out of nowhere, this band was on fire. Despite the presence of the guitar in the front, with all its flamboyance, it was the drumming that caught and kept my attention. He [Alex] is really quite good. And while his playing may be pushing his abilities to the edge, he keeps solid time and challenges himself and the rest of them to meet their own bar, and at times exceed it. Once that monster of a song was finished, there was an instant looseness, a collective sigh of relief, and the rest of the night was pure rocking jam. Settled into the groove, they shifted keys, changed times, moved from one song to another; always finding their way back. Their display of musicianship; impressive, their songwriting; interesting, their sound is bigger than the venue could hold. This band belongs at the Beacon, not some shithole on 4th Ave.*
While this is paraphrased, I think he captured a lot of what we all feel about this band on any given night. We know the high points, the low points, and the points in-between. We know the frustrations of under attended shows, of unpleasant rooms, and the often shaky lack of enthusiasm present within the band itself. It’s obvious how special all of this is. It’s equally obvious that something has to change. Ellis has outgrown itself. What catalyst is needed to push them to the front of the line and exceed their own abilities with consistency? How can this band survive in today’s tumultuous music industry? How will Ellis grow beyond this state? I don’t have the answers, but the questions must be voiced as it matters too much to all of us to pretend this stagnation is fine. I speak honestly, from the heart, for these people are my friends, my dear friends, and I don’t know that beating the rally drum is helping at this point… in the words of John Barber, “Something has to give.”
In the meantime, let’s all do our part to nourish the spirit of this scene, these individuals, and the collective love we all feel. For that is what keeps the music alive.
Friday, September 18, 2015: THE ROCK SHOP, Brooklyn, NY
Set: Lugubrious Eggs, Kan Eye Tuch U?, Decelerator, They Say -> War -> They Say, Bottomfeeder, Polaris, Climax, Snakey Got Demonized Big Time, So Simple > Not Fade Away -> So Simple
E: Dig Thru
”This is for you” from Natalie
With No More Trouble teases from Jonathan
With Good Time Blues teases from John
With “Hi horsey” remark from John
With return to sung chorus at end of jam
With atypical BIG ending
With band introductions from John