Robert Ellis at Discovery Green, 9/19/2013
It feels like Robert Ellis' much-loved weekly local gig came and went a lifetime ago, even though it's only been a couple of years. Since rising to become one of the city's most celebrated performers, though, Ellis has scarcely slowed down, releasing his New West Records debut Photographs, touring with the likes of Old Crow Medicine Show and--most frustratingly--moving to Nashville. Somewhere in there, he managed to find time for a haircut, too.
While the singer-songwriter has put Houston in the rearview, however, he hasn't exactly turned his back on us. Ellis was all smiles on Thursday when he took the stage at Discovery Green to give his most loyal fans a taste of the new music he's been working on for his sophomore effort for New West.
For a while, there, though, it looked dicey that he'd even take the stage at all. After an afternoon of downpours, the park was soaked come showtime, and it was still drizzling by the time openers the Clarkes began their set. Understandably, it was a small, wet crowd that turned out at 6:30 p.m. to hear the husband-and-wife duo, but those who braved the elements were treated to some exceedingly gentle folk tunes performed with a pleasant country twang.
Brandi Belle Clarke showed off some very nice fiddling on the couple's originals, but my favorite song of the set was a cover of Springsteen's "I'm On Fire." Nice and spare.
The rain had eased up by the time the Clarkes finished, but with more clouds looming, Robert Ellis and the Boys hustled onto the stage almost immediately. By then, the crowd had just about doubled in size with more arriving all the time, armed with umbrellas and lawn chairs.
""We're just gonna play as if its not gonna rain and cross over fingers," Ellis told the audience. That seemed just fine with everybody.
He opened with a few older tunes, including the countrified "Westbound Train" and the entirely appropriate "Comin' Home," his nimble, upbeat tale of (mercifully) heading back down to H-Town. Trusty sideman Will Van Horn added tasty pedal-steel flourishes to both.
As always, the downtown skyscrapers helped make the Disco Green stage one of the grandest in town. After distant police sirens provided delightfully urban accompaniment to "Two Cans of Paint," Ellis thanked the crowd for ignoring the weather and told them he had some new songs for them to hear.
Ears pricked up immediately and asses shifted nervously in seats. Rumor had it that Ellis was going to be trying out some new sounds on his forthcoming record, with the word "pop" being bandied about pretty freely. While many fans seemed to have shown up specifically for the new tunes, there was some fear evident that they might suck.
Review continues on the next page.