Thursday, July 29, 2010
I might well have devoted a decade to two to abject worship of the works of Alex Chilton. I actively pursued serious TMI about LX at a time before computers, cell phones etc. So this was a community effort that functioned via letters written on paper and sent via USPS, strategically placed "long distance" phone calls and the like. And it was a nice community wherein most folks shared a taste for music that was economical, tuneful yet spiked subtley ambitious rhythmic or melodic ploys and knowing lyrics. Through this I got to know a bit about the odd and persistently rebellious arts community that's persisted in Memphis for decades and made various levels of acquaintance with some of the people involved - The Grifters, Gus "Tav Falco" Miller, Elizabeth Hoehn nee Leesa Auldredge, Randall Lyon, Jody Stephens and yes, Mr. Chilton. I highly recommend you try and research the "Dream Carnival." A wonderful point of entree into the saga of Memphis underground art scene.
I did see Big Star at Max's Kansas City in the early 70's (I know that if EVERYONE that's claimed to be at those shows had been the place woulda been packed instead of empty), saw the reformed Big Star play at the Austin Music Hall a couple years ago. When I lived in DC and was playing in Half Japanese we (the rhythm section) got a call at home asking if Panther Burns could crash at our apartment and after ascertaining that Alex WAS in the line-up of course we welcomed them. It wound up being a short visit tho in that after a short while, Alex asked if anyone had any pot -- we didn't, but a mutual friend who was hanging out with us was more than glad to drive Alex someplace where they could obtain it -- and that's the last we saw of him until Panther Burns hit the stage the following night.
This is all offered to put the following in context.
We attended the Channelling Chilton concert benefitting Gulf Coast recovery last night at City Winery (as Mrs. W. sez -- a rock club DESIGNED for old people! -- that meant approvingly!).
Glenn Morrow (owner of Bar None Records and an intergral part of the NY/NJ avant pop scene for some 3 decades now) and photographer Stephanie Chernikowski (noted NYC photog who'd snapped some highly iconic shots of LX back when he was mingling in the early NYC "punk" scene) company did themselves proud. We didn't really know what to expect from this -- my expectations were not high actually, but...
The show was very cleverly arranged in segments, each broadly addressing different distinct phases in Chilton's musical career and each featuring a different house band augmented by other singers and musicians. I gotta say upfront that I didn't try to keep track of all the players so can only indicate personnel very spottily.
The opening segment was devoted to Alex's most overtly avant-garde phase -- the work he did with his NYC band The Cossacks, other work from that time, and work done with friends made during that time. Performances and backing were provided by Yo La Tengo who's lead singer Ira Kaplan had been witness to Cossacks performances back when he was writing for the East Village Eye and other publications. They rendered a properly heavy hitting version of Alex's abstract-garage rock masterpiece "Bangkok" with Blues Explosion's Jon Spencer singing lead, the unreleased Cossacks' gem "Windows Hotel" among others. Then Alan Vega came out to render Porter Wagoner's "Rubber Room" (which LX had recorded for Black List -- I think) and Suicide's "Dream Baby Dream" (which the pair recorded with Ben Vaughn).
The following section looked at this works with the Box Tops and featured BT bassist Bill Cunningham and Terry Manning, a veteran Memphis musician who'd known Alex from childhood among others. With lots of wry remembrances of the the comments Chilton made during Box Tops performance during the 60's and then during more recent times, all present acquitted themselves quite nicely on chestnuts like "The Letter," "Cry Like A Baby," "Soul Deep" and lesser known numbers like "Neon Rainbow" ("our psychedelic pop hit") Lotta warmth, lotta love in evidence throughout the performance.
Chris Stamey and keyboardist Fran Kowalski (from Trenton!) among others addressed songs from Big Star's noir-classic "Third" aka "Sister Lovers" with Leesa Auldredge (one of the sisters referred to in the album title) guesting on vocals on "Downs" (not included on the original album, but cut from the same cloth) and "Jessus Christ."
...this is where things get a little fuzzy thanks to back to back glasses of an indifferent Malbec and the house Pinot Noir...
Then a big old batch of folks came out to address the notorious Feudalist Tarts/No Sex/High Priest phase -- blues covers, jokey loose-limbed R&B flavored groaners like Slim Harpo's "Ti Na Nee Na Noo," the original "Dalai Lama" and then a 50's style ballad, an otherwise undocumented (even in the bootlegs) Cossacks' song "Baby You're Okay" which eventually morphed into "Like Flies On Sherbet" The lyrics are supposedly about Lux Interior - sez Glenn)with Ronnie Spector guesting on vocals alongside Kowalski.
The show ended with the classic Big Star repertoire rendered by Jon Auer (of the Posies and reformed Big Star), Jody Stephens, Chris Stamey, Gene Holder (Stamey's mate in the dBs) and Kowalski along with Terry Manning. Sondra Lerche guested on lead vocals on a number or two (I wasn't taking notes -- damned if I can remember which ones!)
I must admit that this is the part where I got the goosebumps and started to choke up especially when Jody mentioned the recent death of Big Star's original bassist Andy Hummel, a lifelong friend, and then did Andy's composition "Way Out West." Another stand out of this mini set was Jody's poignant lead vocal on "Blue Moon" from "Sister Lovers."
The show ended with Jesse malin performing the Replacements' paen to Alex "Big Star." A perfect touch with it's ironic refrain "children by the millions think of Alex Chilton" - IF ONLY.
I've skipped a buncha stuff (Ronnie doing "Walking In The Rain," The Gories' Danny Kroha covering "Little GTO," Evan Dando doing a solo spot, but hopefully you get the gist. (PS - I've updated this according to info from Glenn and then checking out the Billboard review)