August 6: Ben Sollee

Photo Courtesy of Jon Vanderweit
Save perhaps Ted Leo, I've met no other musician who is as humble, affable and genuine as Ben Sollee. Following last night's Larimer Lounge show, during which Sollee's very particular blend of soul, R&B, blues, jazz, classical and rock (all played on a cello) rocked the house, we were lucky enough to meet Sollee. And as his honest, humble, politically savvy and thoughtful lyrics would have you believe, he is a down-to-earth, kind human being. Hell, he let me, overwhelmed by the awesomeness of the show, give him a somewhat prolonged guy hug to thank him. Sollee's touring violinist and bass guitarist, Phoebe Hunt also did us the honor. As did drummer Jordan Ellis. This is the glory and grace of a smaller venue, but it's also the greatness of musicians who are happy to play music and who show that kind of fulfillment on their faces. But, right now, I'm flipping the show upside down and giving out the lowdown on the end. What about the beginning?

After we filed into the Larimer, for a show that was less than packed, but really, given the temperature of the venue and its size, that's probably for the best, we took seats at the bar and waited, drinking PBRs and mixed drinks as showgoers are wont to do. And then, as Sollee came out, we shuffled into the main room and were able to squirrel our way into some great standing room. And then Sollee just crushed everything. As did Hunt. And Ellis. The cello is this amazing, but semi-forgotten instrument that gets relegated to high school bands or lofted to symphony orchestras, and what Ben Sollee can do with his, just using fingers, a bow and a couple of effects pedals is nothing short of spectacular. So, since Sollee doesn't have a massive following, at least, I imagine some readers are mere seconds from clicking away to another review, or heaven forbid, another site, here're a couple of songs.

Photo Courtesy of Jon Vanderweit
What you end up getting is a soulful singer-songwriter who can do just about anything with one instrument. If you want, and you do because we did, a raucous, bass-heavy buildup, then you got it because Sollee will grind away staccato on the low strings. Or he will soften everything and the cello will sound like a banjo or a ukulele or an acoustic guitar. Sollee plays a broad spectrum of his portfolio, of which, I'll admit I'm not fully aware, but he does play "Panning For Gold," "Bury Me With My Car," "Bible Belt," and "Electrified" (thank you grooveshark!) I've gone ahead place those plus one below in a stream so everyone can get the idea. He closes the show, pre-encore, with an incredible cover of "Wild World" by Cat Stevens. Of course, there's nothing quite like the experience of seeing this go down live, and hearing the power of unmixed, or at least live mixed music. Between songs Sollee's affability pours from the stage like honey. He tells us the story of his tour, currently a bike tour, whereby he tows his cello and other equipment with drummer Jordan Ellis pulling the drums and other tour members assisting. He also discusses Oxfam.org, political causes and tells a story of biking through East Wilmington, DE, a place in rough shape as I have seen, and simply recounts that a little boy nearly jumped on their tour had his mother not called him back home. Also, he used the phrase "If I had my druthers" with sincerity. Extra points from me.

Photo Courtesy of Jon Vanderweit
The point of all of this gushing, I guess, is that Ben Sollee, in addition to playing an incredible show, also has a heart for causes and a mind for connection with people. He talked with us for ten or fifteen minutes after the show, but the kicker is that I felt like we had to decide to leave to end the conversation. Neither Ben, nor Phoebe, nor Jordan wanted us to go away, they'd've talked with us for hours (maybe one hour) if we just hung around. Also, when a drunken ass-clown, who apparently had been giving the band shit throughout the show lashed out a final time when they returned from encore, Ben Sollee, who had just picked up a banjo for the first time all night, sat looking sincerely hurt and then put the banjo back saying simply that he knows one guy isn't all of us, but that anyone who'd mess with his band isn't something he'd get behind. And for a moment, it seemed like they wouldn't play anymore. Luckily, Sollee said, "Screw it. Play it out," and they did. Just an incredible show. Pick up or download Ben Sollee's tunes through his website, and go to Oxfam.org if you wanna make a donation to a cause he loves.

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