Vic Chesnutt / Scud Mountain Boys – 7th House (Pontiac, MI)
With the show just over 50 minutes old, scattered grumbles were heard when Vic Chesnutt announced, “we have one or two more.” Well, it did turn out to be four more, and in hindsight, this Detroit audience can count themselves fortunate to get 14 songs from Chesnutt. Two days later, the mercurial songwriter went AWOL before a show in Milwaukee and headed back home, alone, to Athens, Georgia, scotching the rest of the tour while worrying and frustrating his bandmates (including wife Tina) and fans in the process.
Getting back to those 14 songs: Call it quality over quantity. Featuring material from his Capitol debut About To Choke, and sampling his previous releases on the indie label Texas Hotel, Chesnutt captivated this intimate room. The audience seemed to hang in silence as each of the songs unfolded, the hush initially puzzling Chesnutt before he caught on and lauded the crowd for its attentiveness. Where a typical club show can be marred by the chatter of scenemakers, the piercing and often funny truths coiled in Chesnutt’s songs, delivered in his elastic Georgia drawl, command attention.
Augmented by a second guitarist, a drummer, and his wife on bass, Chesnutt played electric the entire show and handled many leads himself. The early pairing of “Westport Ferry” (from the 1995 collaboration with Widespread Panic released under the band name Brute) with “Supernatural” from Drunk was spellbinding. Equally strong were renderings of new songs “Ladle” and “Giant Sands”, the latter featuring Chesnutt doing a straight-faced, convincing imitation of a trumpet. Absent was any material from the hallowed West of Rome record.
If Chesnutt was weary from touring, it didn’t show on this night. He appeared relaxed and exchanged frequent smiles with the audience. Introducing “Tarragon” from his latest outing, Chesnutt cracked up the crowd with a story about how it evolved from a song recalling forbidden cinnamon toothpicks in childhood into one about “people fucking in a closet.” Later, Chesnutt peeked up playfully from his Stratocaster while noodling the heavy and fuzzy power chords of Black Sabbath’s “Sweet Leaf”.
Chesnutt closed his set with yet another entrancing highlight, “Sad Peter Pan”. Returning for an encore, he pondered requests from the crowd before settling on “Isadora Duncan” from his 1990 debut Little. The evening’s finale was an apparently unplanned “Dodge”, and looking back on its percolating words of escape, one wonders just how real these emotions were to Chesnutt at that moment.
Openers the Scud Mountain Boys impressed with their quiet acoustic imagery. Their 45-minute set focused on their latest release, Massachusetts, along with a few new songs. As the band prepared to tear down their equipment after its set, the audience persisted in its applause. Head Scud Joe Pernice looked over to Vic Chesnutt, in the crowd, got the thumbs-up to do another, shrugged his shoulders, and then led the band in a genuine encore.