True Wit: Curtis Eller Strikes Again

Curtis Eller just completed his tour through the UK and we are sad to see him go.

Eller during his tour through the UK

Nursing laryngitis while giving back-to-back performances in a different city every night, he draws from a seemingly overabundant sense of professionalism and talent.

Unstoppable, he rushes back to the stage to gulp down doses of honey in order to get through the next song.

He manages, through all of this, to elicit genuine laughter from the audience.  “Excuse me, but this is a little disgusting,” he exclaims, just before throwing his head back and dowsing his throat with honey from the bottle he squeezes into his mouth.

Then he’s back in the middle of the audience, belting out his best songs.

Not just another singer

Eller isn’t just a singer/songwriter/banjo player/yodeler (as if that isn’t enough).

Other than these impressive skills, he is also a bonafide comedian.

Singing a song about coal mining he stops mid-note to offer the audience another of his witticisms.

“I don’t know anything about coal mining, but you have to sing these kind of songs every once in a while in order to renew your banjo license.”

His humour may be one of the reasons why the artist is so popular amongst Brits, who undoubtedly appreciate Eller’s dry, irony so reminiscent of British comedy.

Curtis Eller at the Green Note in Camden, London

The show must go on

Eller stuck to old favourites that were easier on his aching throat.  But no one was disappointed, especially not his loyal fans who faithfully sang the chorus at Eller’s command.

Green Note is a small venue, but the intimacy of the place is perfect for performers like Eller whose interaction with the audience is such a delightful part of the show.

The audience laughed gleefully as he randomly blew out candles on tables, climbed atop chairs and chased waitresses and audience members while playing the banjo behind them.

Slightly ill, he may have been, but lacking in entertainment value Eller was not.  As energetic as ever, there was not a corner of Green Note the singer did not dance, run or play his way through.

Yet, behind the fun, it is almost impossible not to notice a sort of awareness of his own cultural identity.  Eller’s songs consistently remind us of the America that he sees, with all of its problems and promise.

Never failing to deliver, Curtis Eller also reminds his audience that though he is a performance artist, he is also a teacher.  And though the attendees of his class may be willing students, his lessons about “Robert Moses” and others acts as a reaffirmation of his hope that America may someday be a better place.

He ends the show as he begins, with another witty joke, a knowing shake of his head, his honey in one hand and his banjo in the other.

Curtis Eller’s Workout in F sharp

Watching Curtis Eller perform is like watching your very own avatar play out your stream-of-consciousness; especially if you’re American, left-wing and you like to dance. 

Touring across the UK for two weeks of down-home banjo playing with a strong mix of rockabilly, folk and bluegrass, Eller performed at The Green Note in Camden for the first time.

The venue was small, but filled to the brim with Londonites looking for a good time.  They couldn’t have guessed what they were going to get.

Curtis’ sound has perceivable influences, the most obvious being Elvis Presley and the least obvious, old timer Dock Boggs.  Yet, what results from his mixture of genre is something edgily original. 

His introduction to each song is part of his witty performance.  His monotone northern American accent along with his tongue-in-cheek delivery has the audience chuckling madly.

At one point, he jumps onto the empty chair of an audience member, who had left to go to the loo.  A few well placed kicks in the air by Eller told the audience that this wasn’t going to be an ordinary gig.

“If any musicians are interested, I’ve just knocked myself sharp,” Eller remarks to the crowd, as he re-tunes his banjo.

One of the crowd

Probably the most surprising aspect of Eller’s show is how similar he seems to people in his audience.  He is the centre of attention in a British nightclub; yet the crowd wouldn’t be surprised if Eller suddenly sat down with them for dinner. 

His songs, with titles such as ‘Sugar in My Coffin’ and ‘Taking up Serpents Again’, have lyrics that are occasionally laced with strong political allusions.  He is sometimes referred to as ‘the angry banjo player’. 

But that isn’t to say that Eller doesn’t have a soft side.  He introduces one of his songs as being inspired by his three-year old daughter Daisy.  The crowd collectively sighs, and Eller is off again spinning, jumping, kicking and booty shaking.   

The sheer number of musical performances around London is countless, but true originality by singer/song writers is a difficult find; which makes Curtis Eller a refreshing change in the musical atmosphere.

For more information about the artist and his music, click here.