“If this is it, please let me know… if this ain’t love baby, just say so”
I like themes. I especially like them when writing, but in general themes work for me. They help organize the mess of thoughts that are buried deep in my little gray cells. If there is some theme I could take away from this weekend, it was the deep love that exists between this piecemeal family of misfits that is collectively known as Ellis Ashbrook. At its best there is a deep synergy of creativity and expansive expression that manifests in powerful musiking. At its worst, there is a shit-storm of emotions that rise from unmet expectations and missteps that can seem like the harbinger of the end-of-days. This dichotomy, this commingling of opposites is the real power of love. Altogether it’s the singularity of human emotion. It’s the pendulum that swings from the best of times to the worst of times with big sweeping brush-strokes that cover everything between.
A weekend on the road can cover a lot of ground, physical and metaphysical, as we wend over highways of both asphalt and discourse. Just as the most pristine asphalt can break loose and reveal the cobblestones beneath, with the hardness of centuries-old rock; the veneer of smiles can also fade-fast, revealing the turmoil we would prefer to obfuscate. It’s a product of entropy. It’s the unavoidable truth of our frailty and the ephemeral nature of life. It’s the recurring fallacy of our best plans, because they fail and God laughs. It’s the unpleasant nature of cutting beneath the surface to reveal relentless old-stones supporting both our triumphs and defeats. But it’s all worth it, because it’s what we do, it’s our destiny, and it’s that ever-present theme of love that keeps us striving at our best or just showing up exhausted at our worst. We exist, mostly in the midst of that duality; the mean between two extremes. And the language that serves it best, better than I or anyone could ever accomplish with these words; these arbitrary symbols used to represent the real world within us and without us, is music. Music is the real language of love and love is everything we are.
And music we had! Lots of it. In Vano there was Joni Mitchell, Cat Stevens, Don McLean, Phish, Steely Dan, Massive Attack, Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith, et al. On the stage there was The Big Sway, Mister F, and of course Ellis. These were the first shows in over two months. This was the first time I have seen Jonathan and Natalie in nearly the same amount of time, and no matter what the outcome, it was going to be something! And it was something special. Naturally there were some rough spots, particularly on Friday, but the energy in the room, at the small Bishop’s Lounge in crunchy Northampton, MA was pure party time. What’s better than rocking out on a Friday night with a trio of local kids who are fast becoming area legends and our warriors of the road–country-born city-dwellers, exercising their deep New England muscle for a romp of precarious prog-funk? Personally, I can’t think of anything I would have rather been doing.
P.S. I would be remiss if I failed to mention that our friend Mark D’Alessio, founder of the CTEAA, joined us this weekend and was a huge support to everyone. Thank you Mark; you crushed it.
Friday, September 19, 2014: BISHOP’S LOUNGE, Northampton, MA
Set: Snakey Got Demonized Big Time, Skunk!, Don’t Give Up (I’ll Be Around), Polaris, Psychic Vampires, Way, Off The Earth, We Laughin', Desert Raft, Sledgehammer
Encore: Absolute Value
Prior to I’ll Be Around, Natalie bantered extensively about how it had been two years shy of a decade since the last time EA played the room including big, sincere thanks to The Big Sway for inviting them. She went on to explain that the next song would be on the nearly finished next album and introduced it proper. There was also some quiet, off mic joking between Natalie and John.
Natalie said “Feel free to get down” during Polaris
Prior to Psychic Vampires, a fan came to the stage to shake hands with John and Natalie, which John said was “A Meeting of the Huge”.
Prior to Way Natalie did a sultry “oooh oooh check check” into the mic
John changed the “My Friends” lyric to “My Fingers”, Natalie corrected him
Atypical 4/4 jam akin to “My Soul” with “I am Hydrogen” and “My Soul” teases from John
Prior to OTE there was extensive banter from Natalie, explaining that she had a ‘laugh riot’ earlier and she and John explained that there is a joke about two of the songs from the new album that goes “We are either ON or OFF THE EARTH”. John responded by saying “Girl, you’ve been off the earth for so long…”
By Audience Request
Prior to Raft, there was extensive banter from John that went, loosely, “This next song is by Billy Joel, it’s called Piano Man.” A brief, half-hearted attempt by John to start it ensued. The joke continued when John said they have their own version of the song called “Piano Lady” or “Keyboard Lady”, which had Natalie in another laugh riot. Someone from the audience said they want to hear it, to which Jonathan said, “I want to hear it too”.
Prior to Sledgehammer, Natalie said, “We’re not going to stop anytime soon” and John said, “Now check this out.”
With “Closer” lyrics through ride-out jam.
”Lifeboy” tease prior to Absolute Value from John
Prior to Absolute Value, Natalie, once again with great sincerity, explained how she remembered the previous gig at the venue vividly and how grateful she was to be back, once again giving it up for The Big Sway, and inviting everyone in attendance to stick around for TBS and to come to the after-party.