Robert Ellis at Cactus Music, 3/11/2014
Something will always be all too familiar any time Robert Ellis takes a Houston stage. Even if he's just passing through, which is the case these days after his relocation to Nashville, his performances here will always be in front of a hometown crowd. He served as our budding scene's backbone for so many years, and now that he's gone a void has yet to be filled.
Ellis has, and has always had, that certain star power you only find in the best. People swarm to him. His talent reaches far beyond a microphone and a set of strings, which our city as a whole didn't necessarily realize, and somewhat took for granted. We didn't know what we were missing until it was gone, but now that Ellis doesn't call Houston home, we cherish those moments he shares with us that much more.
Fresh off the release of his junior LP, The Lights From The Chemical Plant, Ellis stopped in town Tuesday evening for a one-off performance at Cactus Music. With a string of big-name gigs during this week's SXSW music festival in Austin, he and his band gave Houston a nice little taste of what they'll be treating the hordes of music lovers at the music/media mega-event.
Gone are the days of Whiskey Wednesday, where it was a rare treat to hear an Ellis original. Now it's rare to hear a cover at all. Still, it was by far his best career move to hang up the country classics and give the world the stories that the still-young songwriter had swirling around his Lone Star- and bourbon-fueled head.
Chemical Plant isn't too far of a step away from his last album, Photographs, but it is a more polished version of what we've grown to love from Ellis and his Boys. He's grown up and has much more to say, and he says it well.
Will Van Horn and Cactus GM Quinn Bishop (left)
Whether it's his grapple with the idea of leaving his hometown in the slow burner "Houston" or the similarly themed title track, "Chemical Plant," his material has matured as much as his showmanship, and the combination of the two is that killer combination that should see his easy rise to the top.
"We were told we could play anywhere between three songs and however many we want so we're gonna play for a while," quipped Ellis after a roaring take on his own "Good Intentions." Arriving from Alabama earlier in the day, their stop in Houston was only a brief one as they hit the road to Austin soon after stepping off the Cactus stage.
If I drove for hours on hours, the last thing I would want to do is perform for a packed record store. Ellis didn't even bat an eyelash, and not only did he want to play, but he wanted to continue to play until Cactus' hours of operation made him stop.
Review continues on the next page.