Concert review: Cory Chisel and the Wandering Sons (with Derek Hoke and Tim Gebauer) balance introspection with barroom rock, elicit nudity at Off Broadway, Friday, December 14
St. Louis native and legend Tim Gebauer opened with a three-piece band, including an electric guitarist and a female keyboard player. With ties to Sleepy Kitty and a personal desire to not venture too far out into the world of live music, the bearded Gebauer stood respectfully before the crowd offering morose, semi-fantastical ballads about love, loss and the gaps where life painfully slips in between the two.
A song that featured Gebauer lamenting, “To meet her” caught my ear with its attention to imagistic detail and experiential understanding of human life. Another track, during which Gebauer belted, “I wish I were underwater,” neared the pop idiom, but never overstepped the intimate boundary between quality, genre-work and cliché.
Derek Hoke brought St. Louis a traditional, Nashville-infused set. On “Gone Gone Gone” Hoke replaced record-side keys with well-executed, distorted guitar. Likewise, “Mean Mama” was “meaner” than its record counterpart. Playing with Hoke, Mark Roberts, ex-standup-bass player of the Dirt Daubers, shaded from slap-bluegrass to a more careful and studied style, telling me personally his own playing is “tighter” when playing with Hoke.
Overall, Hoke’s show was delivered appropriately more up-beat and booze-addled than his the straight, Nashville-style of his recordings, with spurs, streetlights and waterfalls of tremolo. Most of the songs, such as “Lonely Street” and “Cumberland Blues,” were improved by the barroom treatment.
Cory Chisel and the Wandering Sons, who oddly also feature a “daughter,” Adriel Harris, unleashed a set of Southern-ized folk rock tunes intimate and full of romantic bombast. In addition to Harris, Chisel brought a three-piece band, which rocked along with the duo on most of the evening’s tunes.
“This Is How It Goes,” from 2012′s “Old Believers,” bounded through American-pop vespers with Harris’ melty backing vocals. “I’ve Been Accused” found Chisel plucking his guitar and singing, “I’ve been accused of loving you for so long now that I can see where I went wrong.”
Chisel’s vocal timbre and rock-star swagger was so impressive that one woman leapt on stage, turned and flashed the audience her light-pink nipples. Here, I must claim a personal Off Broadway first. Boobs! It took a second for Chisel to regain composure, laughing as he started up the next song.
“Angel of Mine” from 2010′s “Death Won’t Send a Letter” glowed with stabs of guitar, organ and ride cymbal. Chisel appropriately sang, “Angel of mine, don’t you lose yourself this time.” Intentional or not, I wonder if the drunk, titty girl in the front row picked up on the hilarious provisional aspect and irony of the song’s placement and message.
“Things Won’t Change” and “Over Jordan” were dark-woodsy and stomp fueled, offering a paradoxically satisfying, melancholy-feel-good vibe. “See It My Way” and “So Wrong for Me” sounded like something the Civil Wars might roll out. “Tennessee” achieved a similar effect with lilting slide guitar and Harris’ clean harmonizing. The song’s focus on a man left shattered by a woman’s leaving his life was made new by Chisel’s use of strong images: tattered coats, smokey, light-traced rooms, languishing lovers.
“These Four Walls,” from 2007′s “Little Bird,” felt like William Elliott Whitmore had possessed the body of Chisel and started a Tom Waits impersonation. Chisel’s timbre was like breath over a whiskey jug, dusky and moody, possessing hints of light as he hit the song’s higher notes. The audience clapped along before the band dropped into a ka-chunking, hard, blues-edged groove.
Cory Chisel and the Wandering Sons closed their set with a rousing version of Jimmie Davis’ “You Are My Sunshine.” The tune was a strong cap to an even stronger set. I found myself wanting one more big-band blow-out from Chisel and the Sons, one that might have spurred another flash from you know who. Nonetheless, Chisel provided dynamic and impressive entertainment and illuminated a spectrum of emotional and musical highs and enlightening lows.