Sunday, May 18, 2008

Another Minnesotan in New York? John Elliott at Banjo Jim's

At some point, my friend Marie had told me that I needed to check out John Elliott at Banjo Jim's. And so for last Friday night, I had written down in my calendar "John Elliott at Banjo Jim's." I really had no idea what this meant, however, until Marie (who has graciously shared her apartment with me for the last two-and-a-half weeks) said, "So are you coming to see John Elliott on Friday?" And I said, "Oh, is that why that's in my calendar? Hmmm... We'll see how the night shakes out." Well, the night shook out such that -- after a promotional party related to the theme song from the documentary Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden? (which is performed by FolkFoot) and some spicy dinner at Seoul Garden in Little Korea -- I wound up down at a packed Banjo Jim's.

John Elliott took the stage with a guitar and his friend Eli Bolin on piano. (Eli was there to play his own songs, but he joined in on nearly all of John Elliott's songs, adding some nice piano fills to John's guitar.) The presence of numerous members of John's family from Minnesota was one of the reasons why Banjo Jim's was packed. They would sometimes hoot and holler, such as when a song was played for Uncle Tim.

John Elliott gets described as "post-seinfeld, post-9/11 eyebrow rock." Huh? Maybe that can be captured in these lyrics from "The Score":

When last we spoke, I made a terrible joke.
You laughed, but you knew it was a terrible joke.
There was a time not that long ago when all of my jokes were good ones.

So maybe I lost it in the back of that truck
Or that night we swam naked in the lake and we stuck to each other
And we clutched and we kissed and we knew we could make it.

I know what the score is.
I know what war is.
People lose in a war.
It's all happened before.
People lose in a war.
It's all happened before.

My personal comparisons were two. The first was to teenage folk sensation Anthony da Costa (see my blog entry about him). John seemed to approach the microphone with a similar aggressiveness, and his tongue-in-cheekness also echoed Anthony's. (However, since Marie had suggested that Anthony da Costa might show up to be part of the show, I have to admit that this impression is probably influenced by that idea. Maybe I just wanted to see Anthony da Costa.) The second was to Glen Hansard from The Frames (and, more famously perhaps, the movie Once). Glen Hansard's signature technique is dynamic build. He may start a song in a whisper, but you can also rest assured that it is going to peak in a scream at some point (before perhaps fading back down to a whisper and then up again). John Elliott seemed to have the same technique working -- lots of build in his songs such that he would reach the point where he was just yelling the chorus into the microphone (but not in a bad way). It worked for him and made for an engaging show. This was particularly evident on "She Shoots to Kill" (which you can find on his MySpace page).

Two other winners from his set were "Disneyland" about a relationship in Los Angeles (where John lived for a long time, although he now lives in his car apparently) and "Feet to the Fire" (which you can hear (sort of) in a YouTube video capturing a performance from last November that features -- are you ready? -- Anthony da Costa; you'll also come to understand what I mean about "dynamic build" if you check it out) also about California, although it includes a good New York verse:

I don't love you, New York City --
You're too cocky, New York City --
We do not agree.

But I admit it, New York City --
When they hit you, New York City --
Something broke and tore inside of me.

End of summer, New York City --
End of something, New York City --
New York City, we were having fun.

So I get it New York City --
Yes, I get it, New York City --
New York City, you are number one.

(If the live version is to painful to listen to, check out this one instead. The "dynamic build" is still present even though it's not live.)

Eli Bolin had a couple of nice songs right at the top of his set -- if you had told me that "Hey! Emily?" was an Elvis Costello song when he was playing it, I totally would have believed it. (You can listen to that one here.) As the night progressed, his vocal volume became a little overpowering and detracted from the songs. And as noted above, his accompaniment was solid on John's tunes.

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