Hamell on Trial/Matthew Grimm; August 20, 2010; Kiki’s House of Righteous Music
My tastes in music can be a little predictable, I’m almost always going to fall in love with the boy with the guitar and the nontraditional singing voice, while I hardly ever like the girl with the same. If you sound like Neutral Milk Hotel you’re likely to be my new favorite band, if you sound like the Strokes, sorry. But I don’t think anyone could have predicted that I would like Hamell on Trial. He’s unfailingly rude and incredibly foul-mouthed, but on the other hand, he’s whip smart and funny as hell. It must be the latter that intrigues me, I can’t explain it, but I have come to embrace it. I’ve seen him many times over the years, beginning with an unlikely opening spot for Moxy Fruvous probably a dozen years ago, but I took the next step last year when I invited him to do a house concert.
It was probably one of the best Hamell on Trial shows I’ve seen, and he had so much fun he wanted to come back and do it again. His show has become a little less spontaneous over the years, perhaps stemming from his run in Edinburgh, Scotland of something he likes to call “The Terrorism of Everyday Life,” and tonight’s show was strikingly similar to the one from March ’09 right down to many of the same jokes. My favorite song tonight which for some reason made a much bigger impression this time around was “7 Seas” about how he acquired his trademark guitar, a battered but surprisingly sturdy 1930’s era Gibson. As he tells the story, it spoke to him from the window of a pawn shop, asking him if he wanted to go for a ride and promising that he could pay it off when his ship came in. The segment of the song in which he talks about all the different ways he looked for that ship may be his funniest minute, but with a lot of competition. And it wouldn’t be a show without “John Lennon” (a true story), “When You’re Young” (three true stories) and “The Meeting” (about how he’s like the Beastie Boys except he’s only one).
Perhaps the biggest difference between the last show and this one was the eight year old boy who sat quietly behind the bar, playing on his laptop unless he was called upon to participate. Hamell’s son Detroit had joined him on this tour and they had covered 6000 miles before they even got to my house. It was Chicago tomorrow and then back to New York the next day. He had told his father earlier that it was OK if he did the R rated show as long as there weren’t any other kids there, “they laugh more then,” he justified. A very pretty boy with impossibly long eyelashes and dark curly hair, he seemed unfazed by the torrent of profanity and off-color humor. I guess he has heard it all before.
I though I was being quite brilliant when I asked my friend Matthew Grimm, formerly of NYC’s Hangdogs and currently of Iowa City’s Red Smear, to open. After all, both he and Hamell are angry, bald and like to cuss. It seems I wasn’t the only one to think they were a perfect match, when I asked him he said he’d love to and that he had opened for Hamell last year in Iowa City. Other than a few songs on his sister’s deck at a party last fall I hadn’t seen Matthew sing in a long time. It was great to hear old Hangdogs’ tunes along with his newer tunes, not to mention two-thirds of the Hold Steady’s “Little Hoodrat Friend” (long story).. Gina requested my favorite song “The Gun Song,” which despite being about domestic violence and homicide is a pretty great tune.
Surprisingly the winner of his set was the last tune. He declared he would do the clean version when I said there had been enough cursing. “I replaced one word in this song,” he announced, “see if you can guess which one it is.” By the time he got to the chorus, “so let’s hug, hug, hug till the dawn’s early apocalypse,” it was pretty obvious which one it was. Most impressive was how he replaced it flawlessly through the rest of the song, singing phrases like “hug it.” He was not so perfect the next night in Neenah and slipped up at least once.
It was a nice evening with some old friends, even if it was a little predictable.
Hamell on Trial