Curtis Eller, and why you need to know about him

December 10, 2007 at 11:01 pm (Reviews)

This is Curtis Eller:

Curtis Eller

That enough ought to get your attention, but in case you’re the kind of sicko who isn’t intrigued by moustachioed, baggy-trousers-wearing banjo players, allow me to elaborate:

Curtis Eller is the best live act doing the rounds at the moment. He is possibly one of the greatest live music performers ever, steeped in Coney Island showmanship and toting songs about Buster Keaton, Abraham Lincoln, and circus elephants. He high-kicks around the stage, yodelling through instrumental sections, and occasionally pausing mid-song to explain some of the more obscure American history references in his lyrics.

Last week he played in Bath’s Moles Club (supported, incidentally, by the mighty Smokehand), and for the third time I came home and resolved to practice my banjo, write songs, and basically be like Curtis. Actually, that’s not true; the first time I saw him I went home and decided to get a banjo. During that show, Curtis decided that the stage was too far from his seated audience, and promptly unplugged and performed his whole set leaping on tables and chairs amongst the punters. The second time I saw him, he managed to coax the whole club into singing ‘When the Red Red Robin Goes Bob Bob Bobbin’ Along’ a capella for so long that we kept going for a good minute or two after he’d left the stage.

This time round was no disappointment either, as he sang from atop a chair, his head up in the lighting rig, crept around crouched low and singing about Jack Ruby, and lectured his audience on the finer technical points of a good yodel. “Buster Keaton,” he reminds us, “is dead, by the way, so you’re gonna have to yodel louder than that…”.

If I’m making Curtis out to sound like a novelty act… well, he kind of is, but not in a bad way. His persona harks back to the days when a showman was a showman, a gimmick was nothing to be ashamed of, and whether what you were doing was good was a consideration secondary to whether it was entertaining. “Make ’em laugh” and all that. That Curtis Eller’s music is in fact by turns haunting, rousing and brilliant is some kind of wonderful bonus.

He’s coming to the UK again in April, so make the effort and check out a true entertainer.

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