Friday, July 08, 2005
Doctor, doctor, give me the news
Eugene Chadbourne is one of a kind. Oh, sure, there are times when he makes me think of certain other people: Jimi Hendrix, Phil Ochs, Karen Finley, the various mountain musicians on Harry Smith's anthology--but only if they were somehow all mixed up in one big weird amalgamation. Every once in a while I picture someone else following in his footsteps, or walking alongside him, like Hamell on Trial or Bob Log III, but delightful as those other virtuoso one-man bands are, "Doctor Chadbourne" will always occupy a very special place in my heart.
I saw him (at Soundlab) tonight for the fifth or sixth time in fifteen years or so--first in almost ten years, though. Every show's been different (same general ideas, wildly different specifics) and every one has been memorable. Tonight's was the perfect capper to a lousy day: woke up to news of bombs in the London Underground, wrestled with stomachache/headache/toothache combo all day, slogged through a ton of office work that made me miss the evening's other three musical attractions downtown (Sarah Harmer and Hothouse Flowers outdoors, which would have been followed by my pal Leah's kickass Brooklyn-based band Wide Right at Mohawk Place), generally felt tired and weary. And I left feeling... still tired and weary, but uplifted. There's no way to convey this guy's talents in mere words (or even on disc, from what I've heard--that which is transcendent onstage is often grating when captured on cassette, vinyl, or whatever), but let me just tell you that the set list contained heavily tweaked covers of Thelonius Monk (on guitar), the Dead Kennedys (on banjo), and Eddie Rabbit (something resembling heavy metal), among many others, and what I assume to be a few originals. Oh, and for half the show the guy assumed the voice and personality of Jesse Helms' wife, arguing with himself. Then he played his famous amplified rake, using an overturned music stand for percussion. (I've always felt the rake was best appreciated in small doses, but this was easily the best rake solo I'd ever experienced.) IF READING THIS INFORMATION DOES NOT CONVINCE YOU THAT THIS IS A MAN TO WATCH, I HAVE NOTHING TO SAY TO YOU. As my Special Friend said afterward (and this is a crappy paraphrase), he's not just a smart guy, he's an incredibly talented musician. And, I would add, he's very, very funny.
There were under thirty people in attendance, which felt oddly inspiring. Certainly I agree with my SF that the joint should have been packed, but on the other hand I'm just so moved by extraordinary musicians who are in it for the long haul, who spend their entire lives driving around the country playing for audiences of any size. (Flashback to the Mekons packing up their own equipment and dragging out to their crappy van after a Mohawk show, two decades after they helped forge post-punk.)
Now, I would have mentioned the show here anyway, but when Chadbourne played his twisted Jobim cover "Girl from Al Queda," that sealed the deal. Believe me, I'd love to be able to link you to an MP3 of the song, but lord knows where I'd find one, and I just don't have the energy to look. Perhaps one of you younguns will google it or something and post a URL here. Take my word for it: great.