Saturday Night: Robert Ellis Wins Nashville's Heart

Robert Ellis & the Boys, Those Darlins, Old 97's Mercy Lounge, Nashville July 9, 2011

"It takes a lot of balls to do that in this town, but y'all pulled it off," a man in the second row yelled towards the stage amidst a wave of applause.

Robert Ellis and his Boys had just finished a powerful rendition of George Jones' "If Drinkin' Don't Kill Me (Her Memory Will)," much to the delight of the packed room at Nashville's Mercy Lounge. A firm testament to the prowess of our hometown heroes, the statement capped a weekend that saw Nashville wrap its arms around Ellis.

Aftermath, who just happens to be in Nashville on vacation, managed to catch Ellis at both of his Saturday appearances - first at a crowded Grimey's, Nashville's premier independent record store - and later that night. Both performances were well-receieved, as Ellis performed to enraptured audiences that showed the degree of respect and devoted listening we always hope to see in Houston crowds.

His evening set started off with a slow burn, as Ellis opened with the more reserved Photographs cuts "Friends Like Those" and "Two Cans of Paint." But before long, the band ripped the night open with the solos on "Westbound Train" and backed up surprise guest Jonny Corndawg on his humorous ditty "Trash Day."

A thorough pounding through "Good Intentions" made anyone who hadn't already been listening intently immediately crane their necks. Heads were bobbing, one kid up front was bellowing the words, and raucous applause followed. Aftermath stood there beaming with delight at the throng's reaction as Ellis led the band through "Pride and "No Fun" before handling Jones' number with the great acumen we came to expect each Whiskey Wednesday.

As their new fan up front complimented the Boys for their prowess, it looked like Ellis and company will be just fine out in the world and could convert entire crowds like this one at each stop. It's not easy to sell country to Nashville, but the band sure made it seem that way, wrapping up the set with the Osborne Brothers' "Ruby (Are You Mad)" to a forest of beers thrust high and a smattering of cheers.

Aftermath would've been satisfied with seeing Robert and crew tear up the opening set, but Those Darlins and Ellis' fellow Texans and New West labelmates the Old 97's yet to come, so we ordered up another round. Mercy Lounge is a bit like the Continental Club, similar in size and skewing a bit towards the Wild West side. The bar top is emblazoned with pinup cowgirls brandishing six shooters and lassos.

Those Darlins are three guitar-wielding ladies in stockings and one very capable young man behind the drum kit. We're a bit of a sucker for animated groups, with those fronted by quirky females leaving us particularly rubber-legged. It should be no surprise, then, that the quartet quickly captured our heart with both their tunes and energy.

The sound made us recall the Dum Dum Girls, graced with adorable Southern accents and fuzz pedals disengaged. The drums rumbled with heavy hits as the blazing 13-song set that passed too quickly. With a gloomy bit of bounce and some kill-you-while-you're-sleeping crazy eyes, the Darlins also brought to mind The Black Angels, but without straying deep into psychedelia.

Nashville bars are open until 3 a.m., and the Old 97's took the stage around 11:15 p.m. This is important because in all likelihood, the 97's and their brand of rip-roaring, beer-toasting, "baby I can change but I'm drinking myself until Tuesday as we speak" Americana probably could've played through last call. As it was, the band reached into their hefty catalog for more than 20 songs until well past 1 a.m.

Our only fault with the Nashville crowd (and this is certainly nitpicking) was the lack of dancing. Yes, the crowd was generally more attentive and respectful, but a Houston audience would've two-stepped all over their hides, likely whooping it up and making a ruckus out of the evening. Old 97's songs are the soundtrack for a long night of drinking beers with buddies, trading stories and getting into a bit of friendly trouble.

We've been to hundreds of shows and seen thousands of bands, but it still amazes us when a group can tirelessly pound through songs like the 97's did Saturday. There was no slowing down; save for maybe the tempo drops on songs like "The Question." The quartet performed with a joyful fury,making it difficult to imagine that the 97s are approaching 20 years in action.

Nevertheless, New West has a nice one-two punch out on the road.

Personal Bias: We're from Houston, so of course we're biased when it comes to Robert. Nothing puts a smile on our face faster than seeing another city fall for him.

The Crowd: A packed Mercy Lounge, whose median age was probably a lot closer to 40 than 30. Oh, and Lance Higdon! He came in from Atlanta to see the Boys, which is pretty much the equivalent of driving to Dallas for a show.

Overheard In The Crowd: "We put the hotspot in our bedroom. We can watch porn, but I'll be damned if I let my daughters [watch it], so I decide when it goes off."

Random Notebook Dump: The Boys backed up Jonny Corndawg on a number without ever having practiced it, and tore it to shreds. Jonny's really fun to watch, and his voice is a real treat.


Friends Like Those Two Cans of Paint What's In It For Me? Westbound Train Trash Day (w/ Jonny Corndawg) Good Intentions Pride No Fun If Drinking Don't Kill Me (George Jones) Ruby Are You Mad (The Osborne Brothers)

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