Sometimes a band comes along that reminds me of the sheer joy live music should bring. That band, most recently, is Daniel Ellsworth and the Great Lakes. I had the great privilege of seeing them last Thursday, November 1, at The Basement’s Communion show. Though they only had time for six amazing songs, the band let loose and performed for the crowd as though they were performing a full set in front of thousands. I could not stop smiling.
The band opened with Bleeding Tongue, one of their darker tunes, but they performed it with their trademark addictive rhythms, enticing the crowd to dance along. Daniel Ellsworth has such an amazing command of his voice, tackling an impressive range easily and with just as much strength and flexibility as he might achieve in a studio. The man performs such incredible acrobatics, and he’s right smack on pitch every time, no matter how large the leap or fast the tempo.
The band carried this prodigious skill into Shoe Fits, arguably the band’s most recognizable song. Creative percussion from the album was relayed very well to the stage, with the audience participating happily. I’m often wary of incredible studio work in a live setting, because it rarely sounds the same. Such is not the case with Daniel Ellsworth and the Great Lakes. Joel Wren on drums led the band into the tune with driving force before handing the reigns to Marshall Skinner on bass to lay the foundation. The quartet then proceeded to rock so hard, Ellsworth broke his glasses and had to perform the rest of his set blind (one assumes.)
As a third piece, the band introduced an as-yet-untitled song they playfully call Marshall’s Pick. After seeing the normally relaxed bass player dance across the stage while playing the wildly addictive tune, it’s easy to see how it gained the temporary moniker. Timon Lance on lead guitar took center stage, effortlessly driving the song to incredible heights without breaking a sweat. This tune, which I hope is on the forthcoming album, drew the greatest crowd response of the night and deservedly so. The next tune, Frontline, was also a new one, far enough along in the process to earn a title. As with most of the songs, Ellsworth’s keyboard skills featured heavily. He’s entrancing to watch as he commands the piano without falter while still delivering vocals that draw chills.
Closing the set was Wolf Is Me, which is impressive recorded and mesmerizing live. This band is so tight, so in tune with each other, they don’t need visual cues during pauses. The tune drives forward, filled with clever lyrics and creative harmonies, only to stop suddenly, reflect, and then begin again. I’ve never seen any group perform with one mind they way Daniel Ellsworth and the Great Lakes does. Never a falter, never a fail—not even when the rug under their feet conspired to trip them up.
Since seeing this incredible collection of musicians, I’ve learned they featured on the hit TV show, Grey’s Anatomy, performed a set for AudioTree, and have secured a recording session with Daytrotter. I don’t know any band that deserves the attention more, and I urge anyone who gets the chance to see them live—take it. Go prepared to smile until your face hurts. They’re heading out on tour next week, so check the list to see if Daniel Ellsworth and the Great Lakes will be near you.
11/9 – St. Louis, Missouri – Blueberry Hill (The Duck Room)
11/10 – Carbondale, Illinois – The Hangar 9
11/11– Rock Island, Illinois – Rozz-Tox
11/12 – Rock Island, Illinois – Daytrotter
11/13 – Colorado Springs, Colorado – The Modbo
11/15 – Seattle, Washington – Seattle Living Room Show
11/16 – Seattle, Washington – Comet Tavern
11/18 – Redding, California – Vintage
11/20 – Sacramento, California – Torch Club
11/21 – San Francisco, California – Hotel Utah
11/23 – Santa Monica, California – TRiP
11/25 – Long Beach, California – DiPiazza’s
11/26 – Yosemite National Park, California – Yosemite National Park **Private Event**
11/28 – San Antonion, Texas – 502 Bar
11/29 – Austin, Texas – The Parish Underground
11/30 – Fort Worth, Texas – The Wild Rooster