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All words: Jeb Gavin

I’m going to assume you’ve seen the film Animal House, even if you don’t care to admit it. Now try and remember the band playing at the toga party and then later at the ill-advised trip to the road house. Remember how obsessed Boon was with that band? Now imagine if instead of walking into a club, he’d started a soul band so other drunken frat boys could dance. That was Eli “Paperboy” Reed’s show at the U Street Music Hall this past Friday night.

In spite of the originality of his songs, the show was largely an homage–loving, enthusiastic, fun as hell, but still derivative. Granted, this was more along the lines of a small, cavernous club gig, not the big-time revues with the full band and backup singers and such. Reed’s band was similarly devoid of an expected horn section and working with a few new members, drummer included. Reed is most notably compared to Mayer Hawthorne, as the two represent the forefront of neo-blue-eyed soul that isn’t Adele. But where Hawthorne is obviously pulling from the Motown catalog (particularly digging through and swiping melodies and arrangements from the Temptations), Eli seems to be hell-bent on becoming the second coming of Otis Redding (with a little William Bell thrown in for contrast). Granted, my own love of soul music makes me retch a little bit comparing anyone to Otis Redding, but the Paperboy works about as hard as anyone could onstage to make the comparison.

Therein lies the joy in this show: watching a true fan like Reed make the music he loves. He bounced around the stage, sweating sweet soul music into his freshman mixer jacket and tie, Gibson strung up high on his chest (at least until he broke a string). He would taunt a sort of initially lackadaisical audience, urging them to dance. It took some doing, but 20 or 30 minutes into the set people finally started to move their feet when Eli admonished the crowd saying, “COME ON, GET PSYCHED… WE’RE EXCITED TO PLAY!” He might as well have hollered, “Wait ’til Otis sees us. He loves us!”

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