Thursday, October 29, 2009

Vic Chesnutt rocks on in New York City

A review of Vic Chesnutt's concert that doesn't mention his wheelchair and included this powerful photo of him.

Jon Pareles' music review in The New York Times:

Vic Chesnutt’s music attracts musicians by offering them open spaces to transform. Structurally, his songs are nothing fancy: bleak, flinty lyrics set to slow, folky melodies and basic chords — the makings, if Mr. Chesnutt were more conventional, of folk-rock.

But he and his musicians see other possibilities. Since Mr. Chesnutt made his first album in 1990, he has collaborated with members of R.E.M. and Widespread Panic, with the jazz guitarist Bill Frisell, with the Nashville band Lambchop, with the Los Angeles songwriter and arranger Van Dyke Parks and now with his darkest, noisiest band yet. He has made two albums with them: “North Star Deserter” in 2007 and the new “At the Cut,” both on Constellation. At the Bowery Ballroom on Monday they played, as Mr. Chesnutt summed it up near the end of the set, “all these songs about death.”

The music moved slowly and even more slowly: a series of dirges methodically flooded with massed-guitar crescendos of tolling chords and distortion. Led by the guitarist Guy Picciotto, from the intricate and influential Washington post-punk band Fugazi, Mr. Chesnutt’s group also includes members of Thee Silver Mt. Zion, a Montreal band (with former members of Godspeed You Black Emperor) that favors extended, enveloping instrumental buildups.

The band at the Bowery Ballroom mustered as many as five guitars (including Mr. Chesnutt’s acoustic), along with violin and keyboard, and there were few individual leads or solos; the tone was of shared dread, gathering and eventually imploding, then subsiding in the aftermath.

Mr. Chesnutt’s grainy voice — weathered, unblinking and sometimes breaking into a desolate howl — gave the songs just enough focus, with verbal imagery to justify the apocalyptic interludes. The songs, mostly from the two recent albums, contemplated not just mortality but also the broader inevitability of collapse and decay.

Mr. Chesnutt opened the set with “Everything I Say,” which begins, “The barn fell down since I saw it last/It’s rubble now, well so much for the past.” With this band to orchestrate his unsparing observations, Mr. Chesnutt has music for both the structure and the rubble.

The opening acts sang quiet songs that only accentuated Mr. Chesnutt’s dire crescendos. Clare and the Reasons played sweetly intricate chamber-pop that somehow mingled folk-pop, Philip Glass, cabaret oompah and the Beach Boys — for starters — behind the songwriter Clare Muldaur Manchon’s poised high voice, with an endearing quaver as she sang choruses like “Ooh, you hurt me so.” Liz Durrett opened the show solo, picking stark guitar parts and singing with the breathy vulnerability of Beth Orton or Cat Power. Her folky ballads succinctly balanced sorrow and the determination to hope.