My friend asked me along to see a touring US performer last night - Dr Eugene Chadbourne – who was playing at Happy. Dan Beban was playing his electric cake-tin guitar first, and that was a very nice and apt leadup to Eugene's performance. Dan's guitar looks very rudimentary, but the sounds that emanate are nothing but. The mesmerising and uplifting big big sound that came out of that baby were fantastic. I'm keen to see him play again. He had started off on the banjo and that was cool too, but that cake-tin blew me away. I could see he had some pedals on the go, so I guess he had some looping and delay going on which helped build up some gorgeous sonic layers. Sweet!
I didn't know much at all about Chadbourne. I had seen some info about him because of the tour, so all I really knew was about his innovation and experimentation with instruments, the electric rake being the most intriguing. I never got to see the electric rake, and although a bit disappointed at the time, in retrospect I don't really care, because the innate beauty and humanity that eminated from Chadbourne's music had little to do with his home-built instruments. Rather, he was the instrument of all this. I'm interested now to listen to some of his recorded music. I wonder if any of his playful grimaces and laughing, amused delivery will be apparent through recorded sound. He was a joy to watch - he had a complete lack of self-conciousness or guile. His songs talked about real-sounding people, and reminded me a lot of Daniel Johnson's songs, both in delivery and content. I hate that word ‘quirky’ but it seems to fit here. His banjo playing was playful and he makes it all look so easy. Obviously it's not! Most of his songs forced me into a constant smile, and, on more than one occasion, I laughed out loud. I couldn't take my eyes off his constant change of facial expression.
To say he doesn't run with the mainstream would be an understatement. Now I've read some more about him, his list of collaborations reads like an A-list of outsider experimental musicians.
The solo stuff was fantastic, and I wish I could go again (well, I could cos he's playing again tonight, again at Happy, but I have other things planned). He then went on to some noodly improv with the usual Wellington Happy crew, which wasn't really my cuppa tea. Dunno why, but improvisation never really does it for me.
If I had to describe Chadbourne with a quick phrase, it would be "Daniel Johnston reincarnated as an experimental bluegrass jazz freak". Perhaps without the afflictions that Daniel lives with.