LIVE: Hamell On Trial @ the Low Beat, 4/9/15
Review by Fred Rudofsky
Photographs by Ed Conway
Hamell on Trial, the one-man dynamo, brought his arsenal of brilliant songs, disarmingly funny jokes and stream of consciousness asides, to the Low Beat for a memorable set opening for Bloodshot Bill. It was a peaceful Thursday night riot few will ever forget.
Plugging his ’37 acoustic into an amplifier stack taller than he was, Hamell introduced himself by applying a one-two squeegee wipe to the audience’s occluded third eye with “A Little Concerned, That’s All” (a wild metaphysical ride, for certain) and the grotesque but all-too-true drug stories of “When You are Young,” set to an indelible Yiddish melody and sung off the microphone to draw the audience in. “I’m velcro for some weird really shit,” quipped Hamell, before he offered up, “Seven Seas,” a vivid ode to how he found his beloved guitar in a pawn shop.
An exuberant tale of mindfulness, “Happiest Man in the World” (the title track to 2014’s masterpiece) was prefaced by Hamell’s candid account of finding simple joys in life even after his 25-year marriage had dissolved, and his keen desire not to wallow in misery like Morrissey (“He should eat a f-ing hamburger!”). “Ain’t That Love?” – which examined separation – was delicate and yet tense, like a Richard Thompson song set in a small kitchen with both parties just a table apart. Politically-correct parenting got skewered in “Inquiring Minds,” with Hamell in Cheshire grin mode, declaring during the chorus, “I’m gonna lie!” if his child ever asked questions about his father’s dubious adolescence. A new composition, “Cops,” did the opposite, examining the role a parent must take to save his son (“I’ll teach him not to get shot”) with a tone of chilling concern and details that eerily sounded like they were draw from the national news broadcasts of 2015.
“Hail,” one of the key songs to 2003’s Tough Love, imagined victims of hate-crimes convening in heaven and realizing, with bittersweet irony, that the world below is best left behind because “we can be who we want to be.” A kickass humanistic rave-up, “Gods at Odds” challenged the insular thinking that divides the world about who or what runs the universe and commands such cul de sac devotion. “Chris and the Angels,” a spoken-word piece with sparse guitar transitions, dealt hilariously with the mundane absurdity of working for idiots half one’s age for minimum wage and minimum respect.
A parenthetical aside about the joys and terrors of youthful mescaline indulgence gave Hamell’s guitar a chance to catch its breath before “Halfway,” an audience-participation, kick-out-the-jams song that Hamell prefaced accurately as “cathartic – it’s meant to get the demons out!” Whether looking outside or inside, Hamell’s songs struck a chord. “Whores” found hope and affirmation in the outcasts of society; in contrast, “Together” matched gritty slide riffs and a series of perversely funny verses to depict a long marriage’s inevitable slide into physical infirmity and dementia. “Television” was slam poetry at its finest, revealing unflinchingly the creepy, Pavlovian hold the medium has on even the most self-aware among us.
Closing out with “The Meeting” – with an updated lyric extolling the courage of Pussy Riot – Hamell was in hurricane mode, lyrically and instrumentally, dealing out a slide break that paid tribute to the deep blues of Muddy Waters, and even up for a performing patented “face-solo” to howls of delight.
“Peace, motherf—rs!!!” declared Hamell at the end of the 80-minute set. Of course, he meant it in a good way, ecstatic and hopeful despite the state of the world.
HAMELL ON TRIAL SET LIST
A Little Concerned, That’s All
When You Are Young
Happiest Man in the World
Ain’t that Love?
Gods at Odds
Chris and the Angels