Words by: Justin Gillett | Images by: Eric Lawson
Vic Chesnutt :: 11.30.09 :: Great American Music Hall :: San Francisco, CA
If there's one thing people know about Vic Chesnutt, it's probably that he's a paraplegic. Losing the use of his legs to a car accident when he was 18-years-old was an experience that has shaped Chesnutt's life and the music he has come to make. While this drastic loss could inhibit some musicians, Chesnutt has used the ordeal as somewhat of a launching pad for his eclectic brand of Southern gothic folk rock. Chesnutt really knows how it feels to be dealt a shit hand and his music is evidence of that. Rolling through life and performing onstage in a wheel chair almost seems to give the guy's music added credibility and resignation.
But, his music rarely panders for sympathy or pity. Despite the simple instrumentation of most Chesnutt songs, his laconic style of singer-songwriter tunes are humble yet striking and wholly engulfing. Chesnutt's woeful music is depressing, at times, but not without humor and always offers fans an unfiltered view into the his life.
During Chesnutt's recent performance at the Great American Music Hall, the Athens, Georgia-based musician was joined by a backing band to provide accompaniments to his solitary music. The band, featuring Guy Picciotto of Fugazi and members of Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Silver Mt. Zion, was able to latch onto a sound that successfully complimented Chesnutt's haunting tunes.
Despite being confined to a wheelchair, Chesnutt ran the show with an impressive stage presence as he strummed his nylon stringed acoustic guitar and crooned into a mic. Although there were six other musicians onstage, Chesnutt was able to capture the crowd's admiration easily with his distinctive vocals and simple guitar playing. Occasionally employing a blues style distortion pedal, Chesnutt's guitar tone was well suited for his gruff vocal inflections and dark lyrics.
While Chesnutt was keen to overindulge himself with his powerful voice, the other musicians rarely seemed to slip out and partake in any extended instrumental forays. The drumming was predicable and little more than subtle rhythmic timing that went along with the dreary music. Picciotto's guitar work, though, was commanding and his playing helped round out the overall sound being created.
|Vic Chesnutt :: 11.30 :: San Francisco|
As the band played on, it was clear that the music was having a resounding effect on the audience. Despite the social atmosphere that was created for the evening's performance, with tables and chairs set up on the floor, no one in the crowd seemed to be partaking in any congenial talking. The woebegone music kept the audiences' eyes fixed on the stage – forcing the crowd to stew on Chesnutt's words instead of interacting with others at the venue.
With the melancholy tone that permeated the performance, it was only fitting that the doleful music was made by someone who has had to deal with a difficult life that's almost unfathomable to the average person. The accident that befell Chesnutt during his early years has undoubtedly given the musician weathered character and a disconcerting outlook on life. But as Chesnutt performed, his crippled stature seemed to work to his advantage and bolster his abilities. His visceral lyrics about the downtrodden were extremely heartfelt and appeared self-confessional. It's almost as if Chesnutt uses his music as a form of therapy, and in turn, those lucky enough to connect are healed as well.
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