Ernest Ellis and the Panamas seem despondent as they shuffle onto the stage. The Toff’s band room is barely half full — which might have something to do with it — but there’s a sense of ‘reluctant schoolboys going back to class’ about them. You can hear it in Ellis’ voice as he politely urges the crowd to venture down from where they’re huddled around the bar and onto the dance floor; and you can definitely hear it in the opening bars of Twin Peaks.

The band, who recently tacked on ‘the Panamas’ to lead singer Ernest Ellis’ name (apparently their former title caused too much confusion over their status: solo act or band?) released a new LP in September this year. The ten-track record, titled Kings Canyon, showcases their wistful, melancholy sound; a quality they should have been proud of showcasing live, but instead it all felt very lacklustre.

With the set slightly shy of an hour, there was not much room for warming up, but it did take the better part of the opening two songs, which included new single Great Sky, for the Sydneysiders to sound cohesive. Then came New Blood, and just in time, really. It’s familiar, without seeming too recognisable and has a simmering sex appeal that bubbles away in its grungy undertones.

More importantly, it gets the crowd moving. A crowd who, by this point, have formed an almost ritualistic semi-circle at the front of the room. Six new tracks, including the languid and beautifully haunting Sons and Daughters, were showcased at the Melbourne launch, although it was Want for Anything from their 2010 Hunting album that lifted the room.



Kings Canyon explores a darker side to Ernest Ellis and the Panamas, and it’s a commendable LP. Rarely do a band pull off a change of sound and even more rarely do they do it really well. But for Ernest Ellis and the Panamas, the shift from upbeat folk to a grungier, dark sound that still stays true to their folk rock roots was a good move.

The band has been a worthy live performance in the past and expectations were high, so here’s hoping this- at times disappointing- set was a rare case of back to school blues.


Saturday October 8, 2011
The Toff in Town, Melbourne



Words: Tahlia Anderson

Images: David Payne from Who The Hell

Tags: ernest ellis, ernest ellis and the panamas, king canyon, melbourne, music, the toff in town