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God Gave Rock n Roll to Him

by V (writer), Venice!, December 19, 2006

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It's 10:30 pm at the Hotel Cafe, tucked away down a back alley off Cahuenga in Hollywood. A back door opposite a concrete car park is being manned by an uncharacteristically approachable looking doorman. Inside, critically acclaimed, independent, Australian Singer/ Songwriter, Matt Ellis and his band are about to step on stage. It's such a dark, sexy, atmospheric room this one (the only thing thankfully missing is a smoke haze). The deep, wood-paneled walls arranged in that tasteful, art-deco fashion, floorboards underfoot and cast-iron, Moroccan, sculpted spheres - like jewelry hanging from the rafters - further illuminating the candle-lit tables below.

This room always sets you up to feel like you will be part of something intimate, amazing and truly special, that you've stumbled upon some secret gig. I imagine scenarios such as Miles Davis, who happens to live around the corner (for the purposes of my fantasy) wandering, in the middle of the night, down the street in his silk robe and velvet slippers, cigar jammed into a corner of his mouth, trumpet case in hand, turning up on the Hotel Cafe's doorstep just because he really felt like playing. The end result of this spontaneous, not-quite-asleep walk, a legendary gig, never recorded, never photographed - no evidence - just an incredible night that takes on a hundred different lives as it is interpreted and verbally passed on by the very lucky individuals who happened to be in the audience that night.

These are the kind of nights that happen at Hotel Cafe (well, minus Miles anyway) and this night would be no exception. Australian Singer-Songwriter Matt Ellis was to launch his new album 'Tell the People', written while on the road across Canada & North America last year and completed while in creative lock down in a beach house in a tiny, remote, fishing village on the Gulf of Mexico in the Yucatan.

The room is comfortably full. The stage, with its red velvet drapes is tucked into one corner and, although theatrical, once you've set an upright piano and a drum kit upon it, it is tiny.

An enthusiastic audience waits expectantly as one by one the musicians squish into their allocated spots. Matt, tall, strong and unassuming in his usual, relaxed uniform of button-down shirt, jeans and Australian-made boots, squats to wrestle with leads. Branden Harper on drums (who also co-produced the album) is completely obscured by a combination of his cymbals and the 45 degree angled corner he is wedged into. Further obscuring him is Edwin Livingston on upright bass. Dave Palmer (Fiona Apple, Air) seems to have the best spot, mounted on the piano stool of the house upright. Tim Young (The Youngs) isn't fairing so badly either with his Telecaster and Hofner guitars alongside his allocated stretch of wall. And Matt, other than a couple of microphone stands, their leads and the fold back, is reasonably free to wander the 4 foot squared area he and his Cole Clark, endorsement guitar have got to work with. No one seems phased in the slightest though as they launch into the first tune of an at times raucous, rocking set and at times breathtakingly beautiful and quiet set. And oh the sound ... they've definitely got that right at the Hotel Cafe. You can hear everything, every breath, nuance, note, word, thought, skin on string, heart to hand.

Matt Ellis and band kick start the set with the ironically upbeat tune ‘Kings Cross’, which rocks and rolls and journeys like a road trip. Written about Matt's neighborhood back in his hometown of Sydney, it describes the day to day life of this infamous pleasure capital of Australia. 'There's another exchange out the front of my place. The cops take shots of the girls when they arrive in this world, a reminder of when, they had a choice to be thin. Was it so hard to leave? Another red-light refugee,' such lyrics painting a vivid picture of the sad heroin/ prostitution cycle so prevalent in the district.

Continuing on with the atmospheric, happily melodic, country-rock swing, Matt launches into '10:15 on the 405', a joyous, exhilarating ditty, a reflection on the four months he spent separated from his fiancée and the anticipation experienced as he heads out on the 405 freeway to pick her up from the airport.

Matt's swinging hips cause his broad shoulders to do a little shrug to the beat, which, in turn, makes his head bob up and down ever so slightly, in total agreeance with the song. The overall effect of this little guitar playing idiosyncrasy, combined with a quiet confidence and an incredible, soaring and powerful voice, makes for a charismatic and utterly unforgettable performance.

It seems that Matt is a master of arranging chord progressions that can break a heart. With the incredibly emotional music of 'My Mistake' comes also the unsettling, unceasing melancholy of lyrics about a love coming to an end and a plea to save it. 'It's my mistake. All these waves that I make, they're drowning you. I see how you break. All the risks that I take, so fragile too. This distance is great, but its only space 'tween me and you. It's more than fate. Destined to be great, Ill prove it's true, to you. Don't look now, keep your seatbelt on. We're going down. Is it too late for a second chance? Could use it now somehow.' This gift for harnessing the emotional and finely crafting ballads is also displayed in the precious, gorgeous and majestic track, 'How Far to Go.'

But it was no secret that everyone wanted to get up and get foot stomping to 'Hey Mr'. It's such a good, old-fashioned, pub rock, sing-along romp. The band rocked and rolled and improvised and the audience mirrored the enthusiasm perfectly. This final protest track had them whooping and whaling and stomping and shouting, 'Hey Mr! Did you get that picture? We don't want your system or what you got going on! Hey Mr! Did you finally listen? We don't want your fiction or what you got goin'on!'

Keep your eye on this fantastic Australian transplant as he is seriously on his way. Check out his fantastic new album, 'Tell the People' that features an all star line-up of Nels Cline (Wilco), Greg Leisz (Beck, Joni Mitchell), Dave Palmer (Air, Fiona Apple), Tim Luntzel (Bright Eyes, Nora Jones, Emmylou Harris), Tim Young (the Youngs, David Sylvian) and Branden Harper. The boy from OZ is a long way from home and realizing his dream with his own two hands. You have to take your hat off to that!

You can keep up to date on gigs and hear tunes at:

www.myspace.com/mattellisband

You can buy CDs on-line at:

www.cdbaby.com/mattellis2

or at Amoeba Records, LA


About the Writer

V is a writer for BrooWaha. For more information, visit the writer's website.
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3 comments on God Gave Rock n Roll to Him

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By Steven Lane on December 19, 2006 at 02:53 am
Good on ya! Nice article. First time I visited Kings Cross, I knew we had arrived when I saw the girl on the corner dressed as "Alice in Wonderland", lol. There were some great clubs there.
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By Ariel on December 19, 2006 at 03:04 am
good stuff! I checked out the myspace page and listen to some of the tracks. I think my favorite is How Far To Go So, when is the next show?
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By V on December 20, 2006 at 12:05 am
How Far To Go is a crowd favorite. Upcoming gigs, as per his My Space page are: Jan 10 2007 9:00PM @ Cinema Bar, Culver City, LA, California Jan 11 2007 8:30PM @ Viento y Agua, Long Beach, California Jan 20 2007 8:30PM @Twiggs Tea & Coffee, San Diego
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