Having been lucky enough to catch Joe Ely live in Dublin on a number of occasions either with his roots rocking’ band or with The Flatlanders this was a chance to catch Ely on his tod - with just his voice, guitar, songs and anecdotes in tow in the surroundings of this New York supper club style venue. Ely drew from a wide range of songs, mostly from the earlier part of his career as well as more recent songs as Magdalene (a Guy Clark co-write) from his last album Panhandle Rambler. A title which could equally have suited the evenings themes. Between many of the songs he reminisced about the origins of the songs or its writer. He spoke about the late Guy Clark and having recently played Clark’s songs at an event with Kris Kristofferson and Terry Allen. Other songs from other writer’s pens he included in his set were Live Forever by Billy Joe Shaver (and he told how he’d been honoured when the author asked him to sing it at a tribute to Shaver) as well as songs from his fellow Lubbock songwriters Butch Hancock and Jimmie Dale Gilmore.
He played a set that included many favourites as well as some audience requests; although on some he struggled to remember some of the verses but always managed in the end to get through the song. “I don’t know why I do it” he wily commented having worked hard to recall some of the words to the longer songs. Some of the songs included in the set were Silver City, Up On The Ridge, Pay The Alligator and Cool Rockin’ Loretta. While one particular song Billy The Kid sparked the comment that since the newly discovered photograph of the said William Bonney playing croquet he wasn’t quite sure what kind of car a croquet playing outlaw might drive. He then updated the lyrics to accommodate a revised viewpoint.
He told us about his first trip to New York and busking outside Carnegie Hall only to find himself on the inside many years later when invited to play there with the Flatlanders. Something he couldn’t have imagined back in the day. As mentioned he included songs by his fellow Flatlanders that included Butch Hancock’s If You Were A Bluebird and Jimmie Dale Gilmore’s Dallas (the night’s final encore). Pay The Alligator another Flatlanders co-written song was sung with some an energy that would have befitted the younger Ely. He also included his version of the Flatlanders co-write Borderless Love a song he has revised in recent times as a comment on the more polarised political attitudes that prevail in America, in some quarters, right now. “It’s all gotten too weird for me” he professed while also noting that “they should let out all the pot smokers to make room for the politicians”. That comment aside Ely’s set was delivered with insight and humour but without rancour as befits his overall attitude to life and love. A intimate setting for an evening with a seasoned rambler and reasoned storyteller.
Review and photograph by Stephen Rapid