Monday, January 08, 2007
Northcote Social Club
With his arched eyebrows, rubbery face, lolling tongue, spit, sweat, lyrics like "I'm like Nine Inch Nails without the machinery" and a blinding cover of Folsom Prison Blues dedicated to those inmates who cheered following the line "I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die", there really isn't anyone else like Ed Hamell. With a T-shirt stating in small capitals "Listen To Bill Hicks" and immediately indicating he shares the comedian's "If you don't like me fuck off" attitude, Hamell On Trial made a meal of the mincing platitudes of the support band. If you're not watching them support The Waifs or seeing them at a festival, The Go-Set - whose show veered between tolerable Aussie folk (though sung with a Vedderish chewing of words) and squirm-inducing embarrassment at the cloying earnestness of the songs' subjects, fleshed out as they were with some accomplished violin and mandolin playing from the stripped down band, and a Billy Bragg cover which only served to throw the paucity of ideas into sharp relief. There was total lack of authority in the delivery and an alienating righteousness of the subject matter, still give them time.
Tonight though, belonged in no uncertain terms to one man and his savaged 1937 Gibson guitar (we know his guitar was made then because he sings A Love Song about it). Part stand-up comedy routine, part audience needling, part bluegrass-style guitar picker, part exploitation of characters from his incredibly colourful past and all at a New York million-miles-an-hour, Hamell brought all of this and so much more to the No So that I don't mind guaranteeing that word of mouth following this show will see it sell out next time he's in town.
Amid and between songs Hamell spins yarns about the characters who populate his songs, people you really feel like you know by the end of the gig. He also fills gaps with one liners ("Why didn't Hitler drink tequila? It made him mean"), autobiography, social commentary ("Why do Australians always say "No worries"? I mean, you guys SHOULD WORRY") and the occasional headbutting of the microphone ("They make them better in Melbourne, the mic in Sydney went down in a second"). Hamell played several songs off each of his albums with the tracks of his cult classic Choochtown ("My Pulp Fiction or Rashomon if you will"); When Bobby Comes Down, Hamell's Ramble, the title track and a touching Bill Hicks as an encore, which prove to be the audience favourites. The emotional depth he brings to his songs and stories carried them beyond his obvious ability as a slick and and supremely confident entertainer, especially Open Up The Gates, a song about his mother's funeral, Values where he rants about his impossibly clever and mouthy 2 year old, and most effectively John Lennon. Reviewing these songs would be spoiling them, suffice to say a gig hasn't been this funny and moving since a Daniel Johnson show, though he shares more in common musically with Chuck Berry. That Ani DiFranco produced his last album makes sense too.
Sometimes lyrics get lost in the flurry of imagistic words and sly one-liners so desperate is he to spit out a song. The energy that courses from his body, beginning with manic dancing and culminating in a "face solo" gave another dimension to the songs and empasized that when Hamell On Trial plays, it's unmissable and wholly entertaining brilliance.