I woke up Wednesday morning to a Pablo Neruda quote: “Love is so short, Forgetting is so long.” The line holds in it the key to some of music’s most bountiful inspiration: the resurrection and eventual exile of the past. What lyrics come from the inspiration of the playback, yesterdays that are exorcised through minor chords and stanzas, the ones we wish we could erase like Clementines. For those of us privy to the memories, cradled within their satanic grasp, there is no eternal sunshine, but there is Robert Ellis.
With the stature of a man who looks as though he belongs in the depths of a Steinbeck novel, and with a sound that evokes the plains of deserted emotion, seeing Ellis perform at Mercy Lounge is my solution to a midweek lull. His newest songs sink deep into that space between forgetting and purging; in the middle of his set on Wednesday, he introduced a song about moving to California, starting anew, not holding out for the hypothetical resurgence of love. With just a keyboard, guitar, and the sanctity of a voice mixed with musky cynicism and residual tenderness, Ellis managed to silence the crowd into the cradle of his stripped-down performance. The last song that he sang was a gritty account of “growing up” in the Bible Belt; with an introduction that synthesizes the sounds of dusty damnation, the impassioned performance was laced with desert blues and disillusion. Ellis inspires us to a place where belongs the nowhere man, breaks from the soured past and the tempestuous journey to an unknown home.
If the first half of Wednesday’s show served to thrust me into that uncertain land that Ellis so brilliantly evokes- the desire to think on moving, just to expel the dirges of the past- then the Felice Brother’s ringing performance was meant to invigorate the roots of a home. Just thirty minutes outside of where I grew up, on the other side of the Hudson River, exists the band of brothers and friends, whose music conveys the sounds of the Catskills; at one point, they even feature the washboard in their brilliant cacophony of American sound. Having just released their newest album, Favorite Waitress, the Felice Brothers proved their ability to continue intricate depictions of a changing American landscape through light-hearted, high energy performance. With a cohesive energy, the Felice Brothers succeeded in eliciting a boundless and unified response from the crowd, with something of an Americana-induced mosh pit directing waves of enthused movement from the center of the venue. What makes the Felice Brothers’ performance so captivate is their ability to enact theatrical storytelling through well-rounded sounds; though a round of solos are meant to reach entropic states, quickly, the group pulls the reigns in at just the right moments to extend the audience’s interest. When James Felice performed “God What I Need,” an acoustic tune that sings the praises of a materially and relationally barren but spiritually fulfilled life, its seamless delivery compelled the crowd into two minutes of reverent silence. By the end of their set, Robert Ellis joined the Felice Brothers on stage for “Penn Station,” a unity that succeeded in erasing all the Clementines from my mind, and bringing me back into the beauty of belonging.