Matt Ellis at The Hotel Cafe
Last Wednesday I went to check out a show by Australian singer songwriter, Matt Ellis . A resident of Venice Beach, California going on five years now, Little Radio fans may be acquainted with him as we spin his tunes at the station. He has also played our annual SXSW day party at The Red Eyed Fly down in Austin, a few years running. This show however was to be in the more intimate setting of Hotel Cafe.
Sitting at a little table in the front row I was able to really pay attention to Matt’s lyrical talents. I was swept up in the imagery of his latest songs from his most recent album, Births, Deaths, And Marriages.
Ellis introduced “Trying To Believe”, explaining it was a song about LA. This Aussie transplant has soaked in our city well and moreover, has learned to tell its story.
Papa’s on the corner since 5:45
Looking for a job trying to make it out alive
Mamma’s gettin’ home now the sun’s comin’ up
Been working on the night shift tryin’ to change her luck
Papa finds a crew jumps a pickup for a ride
Today is looking up if the law is on his side
Mamma’s up at 10, now the sun’s beating down
Jumps the metro 92 to the shift Downtown
Abuelita in the kitchen, wishes she was headin’ home
But that’s a one way ticket down a one way road
And this is how it is and they’re just getting by
But the kids will make a difference if they only can survive
The song is lulled with the chorus of “They do, do, do, do, do what they’ve gotta do.” Having come from a long day of work that Wednesday, and the wounds still present from the economic crisis, most of us in the room could identify with the sentiment of doing what you have to do to get by.
The heartbreaking and heart-soaring poetry in so many of Ellis’ tracks, truly rung out in the Hotel Café setting, where you could hear every note, every breath, crystal clear. From the lyrics in “Don’t Let Me Forget”, I found it easy to imagine the setting of the beach shack in the Yucatan, Mexico where he spent a few months penning songs.
You tried to sleep with those Mexican power lines
Buzzin’ through your dreams
It was like the waves could come crashin’ through on top of you
At anytime but it kept me close to you
Ellis’ band was on point that night. Guitarist Josh Norton, drummer Fern Sanchez, bassist Cecil Campanaro and pedal steel player, Tim Walker have an easy rapport and bring out all the flavors in the songs superbly.
The track, “Heart Of Mine” struck a chord with me that night and when I looked it up the next day, I discovered the insanely sweet music video that Ellis directed for it, starring his little rescue-dog, Banjo. Could this guy get any better?! Oh, yeah, he could. When he brought up his wife to sing with him on “River Too Wide”, he called out asking for, “The most beautiful girl in the room!” Ok, really? He’s a rugged Australian, who sings like a West Texas crooner mixed with an upstate rocker, writes like a poet, and loves his girl, his dog and his guitar (which I found out later was held up with his sister’s grade-school, book-bag strap – that actually broke during the gig).
This guy has got it all and will share it with you if you care to listen.