Words by: Gabriela Kerson :: Images by Robert Chapman
Dan Bern, Hammell on Trial & Brad Barr
09.16.06. :: Irving Plaza :: New York, NY
Heading to Irving Plaza in the early evening of September 16th, I walked through the Farmers' Market in Union Square, which was just closing. The chilly fall air and highly colored vegetables brightened the fading sunshine and my anticipation of an incredible Saturday night. Brad Barr, Hammell on Trial, and Dan Bern with special rhythm section Andrew Barr (drums) and Marc Friedman (bass) of The Slip, touring to support Bern's new album Breathe.
Dan Bern :: 09.16
B. Barr had collected a small crowd of dedicated early birds, who hung close to the front of the room at 7:45 - young and old, all extremely comfortable in their skin as they leaned against walls and sat on the floor, marking their space. He began the show, alone, on the edge of the darkly lit stage, singing "Before You Were Born." His trusty toys and gadgets spread out around him, the pinnacle piece of equipment was of course the tattered baby head doll with an eye that flashed green, a gift from Marco Benevento. It was a small presentation, slightly melancholy, especially throughout his instrumental version of Nirvana's "Heart Shaped Box."
The glowing highlight of the evening was the middle act. With only a 1937 small-bodied Gibson guitar and a mic, Hammell on Trial is part political satire, part hard core rock & roller, and all serious stand up comedy. His abrupt statements had my jaw dropping in disbelief as I clutched my stomach and doubled over laughing.
Hammell on Trial :: 09.16
Discovered in Austin in the mid '90s and based in the East Village, he rocks songs like "I Hate Your Kid," "Coulter's Snatch," and "Don't Kill," which starts with a ramble about the lack of assassination in our culture these days. Hamell just finished a residency at The Knit working on his one man show and will spend part of November opening for Ani DiFranco.
By the time Dan Bern hit the stage, the audience was packed and warmed up. Bern released his first album, Dog Boy Van in 1996, and since then has released seven more LPs and moved from NYC to Arizona. He was happy to be back in the city, telling stories of watching the US Open from the ninth row. As his MySpace page verifies, he was slightly tanked, and as it was the fourth night of his tour, his voice had an even raspier edge then normal. His four-piece backing band was very talented but hidden behind Bern's presence and dim lighting. Throughout the night the lights cast a dark and dreary feel over the crowd as we had to squint to see who was on stage playing what.
Dan Bern is an acquired taste, but once acquired, his fans are rabid. He sounds like Bob Dylan and Springsteen, and a little like Johnny Cash. He tells stories like Guthrie, with a nod to history, while absent-mindedly strumming his guitar. 100 years from now he would be the perfect representation of our generation; borrowing, stealing, and appropriating, then taking it to the next level.
Dan Bern :: 09.16
Throughout the evening a rumor had flowed about a super private party in an undisclosed location - a birthday party for two Slip fans. It was true, and as they hit the stage at 2:30 am in the crowded basement of a dark bar with bright stage lighting, "Even Rats" washed over me. The reuniting of The Slip brought me to a place of comfort and joy. The boys were back together, and all was right in the world.
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