Before Robert Ellis took to the stage tonight, a bunch of yellow roses were carefully spread out over the portable piano and the edge of the stage; this act would help set the tone for an evening from the man whose latest album is titled, unironically, ‘Texas Piano Man’.
Joining his band on stage (wearing his now signature white tuxedo and hat), Ellis opened by playing guitar on ‘Drivin’ from his 2016 self-titled release, although the majority of the evening would consist of Ellis on keys. The energy of the songs from his current album translated brilliantly into a live environment, his showmanship (no doubt honed from his time recently supporting Rufus Wainwright in the US) adding an extra touch of flair.
Outside of the music, there was the kind of fun banter only a small venue provides between Ellis and the ever vocal Liverpool crowd (even if he struggled to understand a lot of what was being said to him). When “Back to yours!” was shouted out, he was truly baffled, but went along with it anyway (“You say ‘Back to yours’ and I say ‘Back to mine’? What does that mean? Are you just making this up?”). This exchange lead him to comment on what a “colourful world” it was, which in turn lead him into a beautiful stripped down cover of ‘What a Wonderful World’. He performed ‘Chemical Plant’ (by apparent request) in the same stripped down fashion – just him and his guitarist – which gave his excellent ability to paint an intimate portrait of life in just a few lines of a song nothing to hide behind.
It’s key to note that while Ellis was technically the headline act, it seemed that a large portion of the crowd had come specifically to see Manchester-based support band Dovetales – something which was hammered home when Ellis asked the audience who had seen him in Liverpool five-years previously, only to be greeted with a single response of yes (to which he quipped that they wouldn’t be able to say they hadn’t seen, “That psychopath in the white tuxedo” anymore).
‘Topo Chico’ was a great crowd pleaser, even if we’re unable to get said sparkling mineral water here. Similarly enjoyable although culturally foreign in concept to the UK audience was ‘Couples Skate’ (Ellis did his best to describe the tradition of partnering up in roller skating rinks during childhood after finding from the crowd we didn’t do that here, adding that: “It’s great and I think you should adopt it”).
The penultimate song was a cover of the George Strait classic ‘Amarillo by Morning’, which Ellis warned was a country song but they were going to do it in their own “fucked up” way. He left as the band played on for a couple of minutes before rejoining them on stage in lieu of an encore (“We’re not gonna do an encore because we find them weird.”) Before finishing with the lively ‘Nobody Smokes Anymore’, he told the crowd he and the band would hang out after the show and “drink whiskey”, something a generous member of the audience seized upon, a tray of whisky being delivered welcomingly to the stage just before they left it.
Whether the whole crowd knew previously of Ellis or not, his infectious tunes and easy rapport with them meant they embraced him warmly and enthusiastically; so next time he comes around he’s bound to get more than one return customer – and if he’s lucky, maybe even more whisky.