Tuesday, March 11

Of Mere Being: Vic Chesnutt

Vic Chesnutt ©2008 RosebudPenfold

The palm at the end of the mind,
Beyond the last thought, rises
In the bronze distance.

A gold-feathered bird
Sings in the palm, without human meaning,
Without human feeling, a foreign song.

You know then that it is not the reason
That makes us happy or unhappy.
The bird sings. Its feathers shine.

The palm stands on the edge of space.
The wind moves slowly in the branches.
The bird's fire-fangled feathers dangle down.

-- Wallace Stevens "Of Mere Being"

We saw Jonathan Richman and Tommy Larkins at the 40 Watt Club in Athens, Georgia, on a Saturday night (1 March). It was the beginning of their tour with Vic Chesnutt, and was billed as an "early show" which made for some anxiety since we couldn't get there "early" and besides which I was sick as a puppy and couldn't stand up. But not to worry, as it turned out they were late and started at the regular time anyway. I actually had a moment to spend at the X-Ray Cafe next door getting a therapeutic hug and encouragement from muse Paul Thomas, after which I was ready to brave the night. We walked in the door right behind Vic Chesnutt, who breezily rolled on through.

The reviews already posted on Jojoblog of the later shows more or less sum up the current tour. An evening with Jonathan and Tommy is always a fun evening that inevitably ends too soon. The crowd was hooked into the show as one from the opening chord and an exceptionally good time was had by all, except for by (perhaps) the people talking on their cell phones.

jonathanrichman2008-03-01-90 Mike White deadlydesigns.com
photo: Mike White deadlydesigns.com

The brilliant modern poet-songwriter Vic Chesnutt opened by flying up onto the high stage (helped by burly stagehands). He drifted into his songs in between chatting amiably and wandering into strange turns where his mind turned things over examining them from different angles. A touch of laryngitis didn't stop him from being his twinkly self.

vicchesnutt2008-03-01-3 Mike White deadlydesigns.com
photo: Mike White deadlydesigns.com

I love Vic Chesnutt and I don't understand why the show reviews so far don't mention more about him. Perhaps he's a bit too sardonic or spontaneous to anticipate what he'll do next so he's hard to fit to a groove. Perhaps he's too cerebral, or earthy, or salty, and therefore a tad uncomfortable for folks just wanting to have a night out, unchallenged. Allen Ginsberg called him an idiot, but not for the unfettered artistry of his vision. He's a perfect ground and foil to Jonathan's lofty heights and energy. They're like the angel and devil that sit on a body's shoulders, both sipping the same stream-strength of consciousness, partaking of the same fragile humanity, outside the main and happy out there.

vicchesnutt2008-03-01-18 Mike White deadlydesigns.com
photo: Mike White deadlydesigns.com

Vic Chesnutt's Morally Challenged live at 40 Watt (played on the omnichord):

Morally Challenged

"Should I do one I just wrote the other day? I don't know if it's good or not...

"I'm really an idiot for doing this...

"I'm an idiot. I should not do this. It might really be embarrassing. In fact I know it is. Why would I do this...

"Ok, I'll do it. It's really not good. Why am I doing this?"

After the show I asked Vic what he was going to call the new song. He smiled and looked away into the distance. "I don't know........

"I think....... I'll call it........uh......uhm........hmmmmnnn.

"'Robert Wyatt'," he said gently into the night. I looked at him, trying to repeat the words, not understanding.

"Robert Wyatt," he repeated patiently, turning to me with a smile.

"Oh! Is that a poet?"

"He's a songwriter."

Listen to more live Vic Chesnutt from the 40 Watt in Athens (and the next night in Atlanta at The Earl) at Southern Shelter

North Star Deserter

Vic Chesnutt's newest official release is the powerful North Star Deserter, recorded with Thee Silver Mt Zion Memorial Orchestra & Tra-La-La Band, Guy Picciotto of Fugazi, and more.

Vic Chesnutt's "Debriefing" from North Star Deserter, live in Munich 7 November 2007, featuring Vic Chesnutt's mighty howl

Vic Chesnutt website

Also of interest: Vic Chesnutt joined friends Cowboy Junkies to record Trinity Revisited (article in Harp Magazine)

More about Vic Chesnutt

More photos of Jonathan Richman and Vic Chesnutt taken by Mike White at the 40 Watt on deadlydesigns.com

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