WORDS/PHOTOS BY KATIE DAVIES
There were a lot of elements of Ben Sollee’s show at the Swedish American Hall in San Francisco on Thursday night that were just plain right. The venue was an excellent fit for the band, providing the aural solemnity to showcase their strings and an appropriate size for the intimacy their anecdotes, storied songs and sincerity warrant. The crowd enjoyed themselves in the sort of seated, bee-bop way favored by NPR listeners and Baby Boomers alike, although a few of the more blues-inspired tracks would have been served well by some hip shaking. Most importantly, the band sounded phenomenal, their varied instruments mingling so expertly it was often hard to believe only three players graced the stage.
The show opened with Luke Reynolds, a talented songwriter and multi-instrumentalist who has collaborated with Tim O’Brien, Guster, Brett Dennen and more. He performed a short set including a few tracks from his former band Blue Merle, as well as an excellent cover of Kris Kristofferson’s “Help Me Make It Through the Night.” Luke’s generosity of spirit really made his music shine; clearly, this man loves what he does and is really, very good.
Luke rejoined the stage to accompany Sollee and drummer Jordan Ellis for the main act. While much of Sollee’s music is heavily lyrical, the band maintains a good tempo and employs unique instrument pairings to keep the show lively. There is a natural flow in their music that seamlessly leads from melody to jam, often reaching lofty heights before pulling back into the chorus and calculated musicianship. Sollee’s blending of blues, bluegrass, jazz, folk, R&B and more leads the audience on a journey that seems to span both regions and generations. Highlights from the show include “How to See the Sun Rise,” “The Healer,” “DIY,” and a “Boys Don’t Cry” with Sollee rocking his unique cello strum and Ellis owning the Box Cajon.
Sollee’s fourth and most recent release, Half Made Man, was crowdsourced online and funded in two days, a testament to his appealing humanity as a songwriter and performer who seems to sincerely connect with his audience. He’s an expressive guy, and his stage presence and sheer talent are really endearing. If you’re a fan of Ben Lee, Ben Kweller, Andrew Bird or Paul Simon, you should probably give Ben Sollee a listen.
He’s got five more shows (Seattle next on 11/11) in the States before heading down under for a bout in Australia. Check out tour dates and more at http://bensollee.com/.