Review: The Fire and Fury of a Not-So Mellow Cello

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From classical Bach to classic rock, Dirty Cello proved they can play those standards, everything in between – and a few originals too! Last Friday’s Kahilu crowd got a two-hour high-energy show to kick off their weekend and they showed their appreciation with a standing ovation.

Dirty Cello, the San Francisco-based band, is led by cellist/vocalist Rebecca Roudman and features Jason Eckl (guitar/vocals), Colin Williams (bass), and Ben Wallace-Ailsworth (drums). The origins of the group started eight years ago when Roudman, a tenured member of both the Oakland and Santa Rosa symphony orchestras, answered a Craigslist ad from a blues guitarist who was looking for a cellist “who could improvise.” The blues guitarist, also classically trained, was Jason Eckl, now her husband. Dirty Cello has since toured China, Italy, and even Iceland, all while paying their musical dues along the way.

Roudman plays from an empty seat on one of her audience visits.

During their Kahilu concert, they stopped several times to talk story including one about having their instruments stolen right before playing several scheduled Bay Area gigs. After confronting the thieves in a shady parking lot at a McDonald’s in Oakland, the goods were retrieved. They also took some heat at a traditional bluegrass festival for having a cello in their band. “Maybe a cello shouldn’t attempt to play bluegrass music,” said a snarky fiddle player to Roudman, who responded by learning his signature tune “Orange Blossom Special.” Lessons learned – it’s a long way to the top if you want to rock that bow.

Rebecca Roudman and Jason Eckl

Roudman and Eckl are no strangers to the Big Island. In 2015 they toured the coffee shop circuit here and got hired to play a private donor’s party held in the Kahilu’s lobby. Theatergoers were so impressed with their style, they booked them for a show in 2016 and they returned with a full orchestra. The show was billed as “Kahilu’s Dirty Orchestra,” and coincidently it fell on February 21, the same date as last Friday’s show.

Bassist Colin Williams

Roudman rocks both a stationary grey carbon-fiber cello and a violin she brings out when she goes mobile for a romp up the aisles with bandmates Williams and Eckl. Her husband Jason played acoustic guitar and sang but is also a versatile composer with a strong classical background. Bassist Williams began playing music in New Orleans and became a mainstay of the “Funky Butt,” the jazz club where Louis Armstrong used to play. Drummer Ben Wallace-Ailsworth, also from the Bay Area, is the powerful driving beat behind Dirty Cello. He studied at the Berklee College of Music and also plays in a band called If so, so what?

Rebecca’s vocal antics, hair flips, and dramatic stage presence brought to mind Janis Joplin. She and her band definitely knocked us outta our slippahs!

Dirty Cello wrapped up their show with a rousing two-song encore which brought most of the crowd to their feet, dancing, clapping and singing along to two classics “House of the Rising Sun” and The Isley Brothers’ foot-stompin’ party song “Shout.” Traditionally, members of the Kahilu staff come out to place leis on the band during the finale, but what was thought to be their last note, turned out to be just a dramatic pause before the song resumed again. (See the cell phone footage above.) Eventually, everyone got lei’d while the crowd cheered and gave a standing ovation.

Set I
Crossroads | Bad Moon Rising | 16 Tons | Orange Blossom Special | Black Dog | Don’t Call Me Honey | No Regrets | Someone Else is Steppin’ In | The Devil Went Down to Georgia |

Set II
Summertime | It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock n’ Roll) | Purple Haze | The Ballad of the Onion Rings | For What It’s Worth | Misirlou | Fever | Bach Suite | I Tease Because I Care |

Encore
House of the Rising Sun | Shout |

You can follow Dirty Cello on their Facebook page and website.

Read my interview with Rebecca Roudman here.


Steve Roby is a music journalist, an L.A. Times bestselling author, and a Big Island filmmaker. He’s been featured in the NY Times, Rolling Stone, and Billboard Magazine. Roby is also the Managing Editor of Big Island Music Magazine.

Photos/video: Steve Roby

Cellphone footage approved by Dirty Cello.

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