Alex Chilton – 40 Watt Club (Athens, GA)
As anyone who’s heard Alex Chilton’s Live In London knows, the mercurial singer can be both brilliant and erratic within the same show. On this Saturday evening in front of 150 or so fans, however, the former Big Star frontman was primed to deliver a particularly well-rounded performance.
Dapperly dressed in a skinny tie, French cuffs and black pistol-leg trousers, Chilton could’ve passed for a ’70s GQ cover boy as he strapped on one of two Gibson hollowbodies he used for the evening. With a simple introduction — “Let’s boogie” — he kicked things off with a rousing version of “Tee Ni Nee Ni Noo” from 1985’s Feudalist Tarts. Appearing to randomly choose songs from a list placed at his feet, Chilton then led his longtime bandmates Ron Easley (bass) and Richard Dworkin (drums) through a 90-minute set that drew from his entire post-Box Tops career.
Though between-song banter with the audience was minimal (perhaps because of a persistent heckler who kept clamoring for Chilton to play “Alligator Man”), Chilton did share with the crowd a bit of news regarding his share of royalties for the use of his shoulda-been-a-hit, “In The Street”, as theme song for Fox-TV’s “That ’70s Show”. (“Seventy dollars a fucking week, I swear to you,” was his main comment.) He also tantalized the audience by performing three songs from a solo album said to be in the works. (If the songs he played are any indication, the album will sport a Memphis-Stax flavor consistent with Chilton’s other work in recent years.)
High points of the evening included a faithful rendering of “Volare”, a soulful “B-A-B-Y”, and a revved-up cover of “G.T.O.” that put the crowd in a danceable mood. In addition to the aforementioned “In The Street”, Chilton treated the crowd to one other Big Star nugget, “When My Baby’s Beside Me”. The night’s most spirited moment, however, came when the band launched into a version of the ’70s disco smash “Rock With You”. Besides inspiring a commendable stab at a moonwalk by Easley, the Michael Jackson tune also found Chilton delighting in the song’s deliciously chunky guitar riffs.
All things considered, the half-filled house probably got more entertainment than they bargained for. Perhaps it was his enthusiasm for his upcoming new album, perhaps it was affection for the 40 Watt…whatever the reason, Chilton appeared to be enjoying himself immensely. By night’s end, even the heckler had apparently landed in Chilton’s good graces. The encore? “Alligator Man”.