Not knowing exactly what to expect from this show, it was certain that two of my favorite albums of 2008 were going to be highlighted on this cold Friday night in New York City. When Elf Power frontman, Andrew Rieger, emailed me with the news that Elf Power would play an entire opening set before supporting the album they recorded with Vic, my anticipation grew. We got there while Elf Power were setting up, and Pete had a quick word with Andrew. Mr. Elf Power also commented on the Neutral Milk Hotel t-shirt I was wearing, one he sold me via Orange Twin Records a few weeks back.
Elf Power left the stage for just a few minutes before making their formal entrance. They opened with “Step Through the Portal …” and then went right into their newest LP, In a Cave (#6 on Fishpork’s Favorite Albums list). Rieger and company played effortlessly through songs like “Owl Cut,” “Spiral Stairs” and “Softly Through the Void.” You can’t say enough about the sound quality at the Bowery. It’s just flawless. I would prefer the Music Hall of Williamsburg (adjacent to a great bar scene) and Johnny Brenda’s (IPA on tap with only 200 person max), but the Bowery is near the top. Elf Power finished their set with an epic version of “Back to the Web” from the LP by the same name and left the stage promising to be back shortly with Vic Chestnutt. The crowd at this point was still only about half of the 600 maximum capacity. Shame on you, New York!
The band returned just minutes later, this time carrying the legend himself and his wheel chair to an area right in front of us. The crowd finally filled up most of the venue at this point. For those unfamiliar, Vic was injured in a car accident when he was 18. The accident left him partially paralyzed. His ability to play guitar was not altogether lost, although it does take a lot of energy for Chestnutt to set up his leg on his array of guitar pedals, a process that he joked about with the crowd. His set up included an undersized acoustic guitar with five effects pedals below and a harmonica. When Vic was younger he played regularly at local shows in Athens, Georgia before being discovered by Michael Stipe of REM. Stipe went on to produce Chestnutt’s first two albums in the early 90s.
Chestnutt’s newest album was a collaborative effort with Elf Power called Dark Developments, an altogether catchy, scathing and lyrically high brow effort. Vic announced he and the band would play the album in its entirety, a concept that has been popular in recent years with established bands. Chestnutt began the “la la la” opening of “Mystery,” and the crowd became catatonic. This man has more passion in his broken down body than any musician alive today. He told the stories behind many of the tracks and interacted with the audience all night. He explained, “I wrote this song. It’s called ‘Little Fucker.’ I wrote it about myself.”
The highlight of the night was an angry rant about recent campaign hero, Joe the Plumber. Vic explained that he worked on the concept for the song “Phil the Fiddler” for two years before Joe the Plumber came along. “Fuck Joe the Plummer,” he yelled before going into the album’s closing track. Vic ended the show with two older tracks that have me scrambling to download all of his older stuff. The show was a long one, as Elf Power played for almost an hour, and Vic played for close to 90 minutes. It was all worth several times the $15 ticket. The show will, without a doubt, end up on our list of favorites for 2009.