Review and photographs by Ross Marvin
One night before Bob Dylan turned 73 years old, Michael Hurley (a.k.a. Elwood Snock) played a $10 concert to a packed house at the Half Moon in Hudson.
The 72-year-old Hurley, whose First Songs was released on the legendary Folkways label 50 years ago, turned the dive bar full of 20-somethings into a hushed coffee house. “All of you shush up just awhile,” said Hurley before he launched into “The Revenent,” where he pronounced his truest lyrics of the night, “I am invincible, and I will survive.” Beyond all else, Michael Hurley is a fiercely independent counterculture survivalist. He is the Bear Grylls of freak-folk.
Like his better-known contemporary Mr. Zimmerman, Hurley’s legendary past doesn’t quite mean his live performance is life-altering. If you saw him busking on the street, you’d know he’d been at it a long time and you’d throw him a couple bucks, but you probably wouldn’t sign him to your record label before checking his pedigree (which includes a close association with the Holy Modal Rounders, and the Youngbloods) and taking a second listen to his seemingly simple lyrics.
Where Dylan’s live singing voice has deteriorated to a croak, Hurley’s is still recognizably endearing, though tonality was never his bag either. Hurley is at his best when he gets into the high register and lets his voice slip into an almost-tuneful falsetto as it did in the aptly-titled opener “Open Up.” Playing his hollow-body guitar through a borrowed amp, Hurley’s singular front-porch picking is epitomized by the single-note bass runs and licks that he turned out all night long.