July 21st, 2003

Went and checked out that Vic Chesnutt show at the Horse last night. Vic was his usual smart, wryly funny self. Played lots of great songs and kept the audience tuned in despite what were ultimately very spare arrangements (even as solo arrangements go). Picked up a tour CD (Vic live with a full band), but I haven’t checked it out yet.

The opening act, Hem, was kind of disappointing. I really love the band’s record, “Rabbit Songs,” which I grabbed immediately after hearing the song “Betting On Trains” on an Uncut CD a couple years back. Their writing is very strong and their singer, Sally Ellyson, has a terrific voice. Last night, though, they were missing pianist/writer/bandleader Dan Messe and I think his absence was audible. The arrangements sounded incomplete. No surprise there, given that the band pointed out from the stage that they’ve only twice played without Messe (both times at the Iron Horse). I was also not at all taken with their use of an electric string bass. It’s not that I have trouble with electric bass (indeed, I like it just fine). I just thought the band’s sound would have benefited mightily from the warm, organic sound of a real upright. Why go halfway on a thing like that? Finally, Ellyson explained that she’d wiped herself out screaming at friend’s wedding the previous day. Understandable, I suppose (you’ve gotta have a life), but it didn’t do much to help a band that was already hobbled by the absence of a key player. Hem hinted at the potential for brilliance at moments, but on the whole I can only call their performance lackluster.

Still, I bought a copy of the import single Hem was selling at the merch table, “I’m Talking With My Mouth” (haven’t listened to it yet). And I’ll definitely want to see the band again, at full strength, before I draw any actual conclusions about their live show. I continue to have very high hopes.

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