Daniel Ellsworth and The Great Lakes and our writer’s existential crisis.
By the time Daniel Ellsworth and The Great Lakes take the Exit/In stage on Saturday night, I’m already knee deep in an existential crisis.
Having lamented my inability to hang out in college apartments and drink shitty beer with no true concerns about my health or my intoxicated alter ego, (thank you, opening acts), I’m ready for something that will permeate the uncertainty of my current life state. Daniel Ellsworth delivers just that.
Watching them perform “Shoe Fits,” the audience falls to a backdrop, and I imagine women skipping through Park Slope with designer strollers and triple shot lattes. I wonder when this will be me, because, my God, they’re right- I am so much like my mother. When did this happen? But, with syncopated beats and an uplifting timber, I question whether wearing that shoe would really be all that damning.
According to “Surrender,” it would be. The song offers an empathic consolation for generational uncertainty, a la Dustin Hoffman’s confusion in “The Graduate.” Through a synthesized staccato, the “civilized man” wonders when he’ll wake up, and notes the paradoxes of an absurd society. Yet somehow, between references to trench warfare and predictable parties, the lyrics are perfectly in sync with the musical composition. Each verse fits into a mechanical framework, after which the band dips into a theatrical outcry, contrasting robotic chaos with robust, humanistic expression. By the end of the performance, he convinces me that I, too, know what I’m after, even if it’s just to escape the technical facade of a civilization, of a gritty tarmac kind of existence. (Disclaimer: This song might actually be about war, in which case, ignore my hyperbolic interpretation.)
“Follow Me Home” is the peak of the performance, and the pivotal moment in a musical trajectory that mirrors my own search for solace. It is delivered through the lines, “When it comes time to bury me/they’re gonna lay me in the hills of Tennessee/well I may never know love, I may never be free/But I’ll always remember the night you came home with me.” There’s something oddly chilling about the juxtaposition of these sentiments. It’s a visual that, set to an outlaw-country sound, sings the lustful exhilaration we find in youth, even when we’ve accepted a certain destiny.
The show itself carries a modernized Vaudevillian element to it; whether due to deliberate musical codas, or theatrical micro-choreography, I imagine Daniel Ellsworth and The Great Lakes playing behind the velvet curtains of a 2013 saloon. Smiling surveys of the audience accompany jazz chords, while vigorous movements reign over their musical interludes. It’s easy to become mesmerized by the five on-stage performers, and to contextualize your life within their set. By the end of the show, I’m convinced of three things: 1) I will probably be okay, whether I move to Brooklyn or lay down my fort forever in the South 2) I’m still young enough to drink cheap wine and sleep in dust, and 3) I will be listening to this album daily for the self-assurance that my dramatic and fragile ego needs.