Concert Review: Collider, Martly (Valentine’s, Albany, New York, January 25, 2003)

Some over-thinking, music-criticizing journalist type once crafted an analogy between the music made by Collider (the band) and the products produced by colliders (the favorite toys of your friendly neighborhood particle physicists). It was a wanky, pretentious analytical stretch, sure, but it did capture a key element of Collider (the band)’s allure, in that they’re really good at smashing things together that don’t normally even frequent the same neighborhoods, creating fire and smoke and carnage, heat and fear and danger in the process.

The New York City-based quartet sure crunched all sorts of things together to great effect during a massive set Saturday night at Valentine’s. Collider offered pure punk rock power, for instance, played with King Crimson-caliber technical precision. They poured molten buckets of guitar noise over our heads, then feathered us with fancy keyboard filigree. They shouted and screamed like hopping, bopping cretins, but when we pieced together the words that flew out of them, we realized that they were some of the most thoughtful and entertaining things we’d heard in ages, about such way cool topics as trilobites, Joey Ramone, white kids with dreadlocks, Farmingdale High School’s class of 1991, Korn, the last two letters of the alphabet, lovers who don’t come back when you set them free, the trees, roundhouses to the head, America, God, man, love, hate, you name it, it was in there, and then some. Prego.

Collider even offered up a bracing Faith No More cover (“Be Aggressive”), then topped that with an awe-inspiring, to-these-ears-definitive take on Jonathan Richman’s “Pablo Picasso” (done John Cale style, mind you, not Modern Lovers style). And how often can you use the words “Faith No More” and “John Cale” in the same sentence about the same concert, and have it make sense, huh? Well, that, in a nutshell, is the Collider magic: the fact that you could pretty much hear some facet of just about every type of popular music from the past quarter century somewhere in their set’s high speed swirl of hyper-accelerated sound and energy. Well, except for Rush. There is no Rush in the Collider sound. None at all. Nada.

So how do they pull it off? Well, keyboardist-vocalist-songwriter (and Albany ex-pat) Jed Davis writes and sings some awesome songs, and has for ages, so we expect that from him, but the Collider that I saw Saturday night was a lot more than just the Jed Davis Experience or Jedmania or The Jed Matthews Band. Collider are one tight group, get me, and they were firing on all cylinders at Valentine’s, with Sean Gould channeling the ghosts of guitar gods past, present and future, Mike Keaney playing bass guitar the way Keith Moon might, if Moon wasn’t a drummer, or dead (Keaney also sang the aforementioned “Pablo Picasso” and “Big Hot Monday,” a classic track by Collider precursor band Hanslick Rebellion), and drummer Joe Abbatantuono making the whole thing rocket along like a criticality accident in a crystal meth laboratory. You just can’t argue with results like that. Vote Collider for Congress.

Last time I caught Martly in concert in 1998 or so, they still had the word “Style” in front of their name, and John Delehanty was twiddling their knobs behind their soundboard. These days, though, Delehanty’s up on stage with a sweet black and white Rickenbacker, creating some fabulous, Television-esque twin guitar parts with fellow string bender Chris Conti. They and their bandmates had it going on like nobody’s bidness Saturday night, offering a great set of striking songs (which nicely merged three-minute-pop style melodies with ambitious, free-form experimental structures) and working the crowd well as they did it. Great stuff from a great band who have grown tremendously over the past few years — yet still seem primed and ready for more.

Concert Review: Clutch (Three Shows)

Clutch, COC, Spirit Caravan, Clearlight
Northern Lights (Clifton Park, New York), January 18, 2001

I’ve often struggled for the right words when trying to describe just exactly what it is that Clutch offer when they occupy a concert stage. Fortunately, the title of the group’s forthcoming album lays it out about as simply and concisely as it can be explained — and an awesome display of Pure Rock Fury was indeed on display last Thursday night when West Virginia’s heaviest (musical) foursome hit Northern Lights as part of potent package tour of modern rock marauders.

From the opening riff of the anthemic “Rock and Roll Outlaw” to the final feedback whine of the evening’s closing meltdown jam, Clutch convincingly demonstrated their mastery of their chosen idiom, whatever it is that you want to call it, offering powerful, melodic, moving, complex and subtle (often all at the same time) songs — then playing them as if they’d fallen out of the adrenaline tree, hitting every branch on the way down.

The impact of Clutch’s attack, however, came not only from the energy of their performance, but also from the awesome breadth of the quartet’s eclectic musical borrowings and inspirations, whether from bassist Dan Maines’ and drummer Jean-Paul Gaster’s funk-fortified bottom, to guitarist Tim Sult’s masterful deployment of all things wah-wah and widdly, to singer Neil Fallon’s multi-faceted vocal performances, which oscillated between beefy shriek, basso rumble and didactic declamation throughout the evening.

Toss in Fallon’s incredible lyrics — some of the finest and most surreal that modern rock has to offer, with little whiff of hyperbole nor room for argument in that statement — and you’ve got as complete a rock and roll package as these ears and eyes and this mind have ever encountered, peaking with the mid-set two-fer of “Elephant Rider” and “The Soapmakers,” both of which merged poetry, passion and power in ways that most bands can’t even dream about, much less execute. Pure Rock Fury indeed, and really damn good music to boot.

The evening’s three warm-up acts paled in comparison, but when assessed objectively on their own merits certainly held up well. COC (the artists formerly known as Corrosion of Conformity) offered a sort on minimalist Metallica approach, stripping that better known group’s sound of its prog and pop tendencies, leaving giant, monolithic slabs of riff and rhythm behind. Spirit Caravan (featuring Scott “Wino” Weinrich, once of St. Vitus, the Southern California group that made it okay for a generation of ’80s skinheaded hardcore kids to like metal) played a lean set of muscular, blue collar metal that evoked a cross between Motorhead and Steppenwolf.

Clearlight opened the evening with a nifty set of instrumental jazz-skronk metal, bolstered with organ, that sounded something like what might have happened if Slayer had covered Iron Butterfly’s Ball, the New York Times‘ retro critical reference album of the year. God forbid that the hippie jam-band scene ever stumbles upon these guys, as the Dave Matthews Band and others of that ilk might be ripped to shreds as false prophets once Clearlight power-blasted the scales from the eyes and ears of their audiences.

Clutch, Scissorfight
Saratoga Winners (Cohoes, New York), November 16, 2002

Boy, I’d be hard pressed to come up with a better twin-bill for a rock show than the one that Clutch and Scissorfight offered Saturday night at Saratoga Winners. Both bands’ performances just absolutely awesome, and they mined thematically similar creative lodes–although they discovered radically different sonic gems therein, tossing them out like deranged musical Carnegie heirs into the open hands, mouths and hearts of the needy mob before them.

Both Clutch and Scissorfight hail from rural parts of the country regarded for the most part by outsiders as scary or intimidating. Thing is, both Clutch and Scissorfight know that their home hamlets are scary and intimidating, and they revel in exploring and sharing the tawdrier sides of the West Virginia experience (Clutch’s area of expertise) or the more virulent aspects of life in northern New Hampshire (Scissorfight’s home base). What separates both groups from the gazillions of less talented bands poking about in the same sonic spaces is the extreme intelligence with which both bands’ songwriters explore topics usually avoided or (at best) endured, rather than thought about.

Scissorfight frontman Ironlung is a big bear of a man — but he’s a helluva lot smarter than the average bear, he is, and he devotes a good chunk of his lyrical focus on historically inspired examples of man’s savagery against man, nature, or whatever else happens to piss off man at a particular moment in his nasty, brutish life. Backed by a trio of the sludgiest sludge rockers imaginable (I mean, these guys make Queens of the Stone Age sound like Abba), Ironlung was absolutely riveting as he riled the crowd with such fabulous party singalongs as “Musk Ox,” “The Most Dangerous Animal is Me” and “New Hampshire’s Alright if You Like Fighting.” Jeez, these guys even played a G.G. Allin cover, and they played it like they meant it.

That’s ugly, that is, and that’s a very, very good thing when it comes to smart stoner rock of the flavor that Scissorfight offer. Clutch’s set was, perhaps, slightly less ugly — but just as compelling in its intensity and creativity. What Scissorfight present with sheer balls, brawn, power and volume, Clutch put forward with stupendous instrumental talent. The two lengthy instrumental workouts included in Saturday’s set (the second one, at the tail end of set highlight “Spacegrass” featuring Troy’s own Leo Curley, former axe-man with Biohazard) would have shamed any number of jam bands — but they never lost the audience while widdling, a feat pure and beautiful in its rarity. Lemme tell you: you haven’t seen a drummer play the drums until you’ve watched Jean-Paul Gaster behind the kit, and bassist Dan Maines and guitarist Tim Sult are easily the hardest playing groovemeisters in modern rock history.

Which means Clutch are extraordinary as an instrumental trio (and sometimes they open for themselves in that capacity), but when you toss singer-guitarist Neil Fallon into the mix, you move in the realm of the sublime. The man’s got great pipes, writes brilliant lyrics, and is about as charismatic a performer as you’re likely to find in metal circles. Hell, his non-microphone hand alone conveyed more emotion than most singers get from their whole soul and being, as Fallon conducted the crowd like a maestro, and created little visual pantomime stories to accompany his lyrical litanies. Had you seen him Saturday night, you’d never look at “Little Bunny Fufu” the same way again–and you’d make damn sure that you were there to see Fallon and friends perform the next time they passed through town.

Clutch, The Bakerton Group
The Chance (Poughkeepsie, New York), February 27, 2009

Ask me who the greatest live rock band in history was (or is) and I can answer definitively, authoritatively and absolutely: The Who, in their classic Daltrey-Townshend-Entwistle-Moon days. Watch The Kids Are Alright sometime if you don’t believe me. They were just unarguably great on stage. The greatest, in fact. End of discussion.

Ask me who’s number two and it gets a little fuzzier. (Don’t suggest Led Zeppelin to me, though. Watch The Song Remains The Same sometime if you don’t believe me, and see if you stay awake as the songs do, indeed, remain the same. Zzzz.) I think the greatest single concert I ever saw was Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds in a creepy gothic worship space on the campus of Georgetown University in late 1990 or early 1991, when Marcia was pregnant with Katelin. The grandeur of the music and the space and the company conspired to make it magical, memorable evening.

Probably the greatest ongoing concert spectacle I ever watched was the Butthole Surfers through the mid-to-late ’80s at the height of their powers, when dancers, fire, film and music merged into an overwhelming audio-visual experience guaranteed to blow your mind everytime you got to see it.

I also experienced some awe-inspiring local shows here in Albany during the roughly ten years that I was reviewing music for Metroland and hosting Sounding Board on Time Warner Cable. The Hanslick Rebellion are, I think, the best live act ever to emerge from these parts, as documented on the absolutely essential The Rebellion is Here CD recorded at the much-lamented QE2. Small Axe also moved me powerfully from the stage, as did Beef and the Kamikaze Hearts. I feel fortunate to have experienced from the pit what I think was a particularly magic moment in the metal-to-hardcore world hereabouts, when the likes of Section 8, One King Down, The Clay People and Withstand were at the heights of their powers. They were all awesome live presences, and bore true testimony to the transformative power of homegrown, hometown music.

But if you had to pin me down to naming the second greatest live rock band in history, I’d probably pick the Pride of Maryland: Clutch. They offer pure rock fury that swings, along with some of the most inspired, insane lyrics ever produced from within the rock n’ roll idiom. (Right before the first time I saw them, circa 1994 or ’95 at the QE2, then-fellow Metroland scribe Tom Flynn recommended them to me by saying: “The craziest shit comes out of that guy’s mouth.” And he was right.) I think I’ve seen them eight or so times since then, and every show has been bigger and better than the one before it.

Last weekend, Marcia was out of town, so I was out looking for a movie to watch and picked up Clutch’s brand-spanking new live DVD, Full Fathom Five: Field Recordings, 2007-2008. Like The Kids Are Alright, it’s filled with just mind-blowingly powerful performances. Marcia’s also a Clutch fan, so when she got home, I watched the DVD again with her, and she noted she’d like to see them in concert sometime, having never done so. I went online to see if, perchance, they might be touring anytime soon, and lo and behold, we were delighted to see that they were playing at The Chance in Poughkeepsie Friday night.

So we made a quick post-work run down to the Mid-Hudson to watch Neil Fallon, Tim Sult, Dan Maines and Jean-Paul Gaster work their magic, first as their alter-ego instrumental jam-band, The Bakerton Group, then under the Clutch brand. The group has stripped back to the basics after a few years of touring with a keyboardist and occasional supplemental guitarist. For most of the show, Sult, Maines and Gaster handled all the instrumental fire, with Fallon picking up his guitar for some numbers later in the set.

The instrumental trio, as always, were all about getting down to the business of the groove: while Gaster got occassionally animated behind his drums, Sult and Maines were heads down over their guitar and bass, flexing their prodigious musical muscles. Frontman Fallon offered the riveting stage presence that made things explosive and electric. He’s got a physical, declamatory Old School Preaching style that makes you want to shout “Amen” and throw your hands in their air everytime he pauses for a breath.

It was an awesome show by a great, great, live rock n’ roll band, and I’m glad Marcia finally got a chance to see them whip an audience into a frenzy up close and personal. Don’t miss ’em if you have a chance to catch ’em. They’re something special.

Concert Review: Ian Anderson (Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, Troy, New York, October 15, 2002)

Some casual observers might not appreciate the difference between a Jethro Tull concert and an Ian Anderson solo performance, given that Anderson is the only constant member in Tull’s 30-plus year history, not to mention being the band’s songwriter, singer and (most especially distinctively) flute player. But Anderson himself has always insisted that he, alone, is not Jethro Tull — since, to his view, it takes stalwart lead guitarist Martin Barre’s participation to muster critical Tull mass. Which makes sense, of course, if you consider that Jethro Tull’s most distinctive riff, from their ever-popular classic rock radio hit “Aqualung,” spins only off of Barre’s guitar.

So last week at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, we had no Martin Barre, and therefore no “Aqualung,” and therefore an Ian Anderson show, not a Jethro Tull concert. Thing was, though, it wasn’t really a solo show at all, since Anderson had four young English players in tow, spent a good chunk of the evening sitting on a sofa talking with radio personality Bob Wolf of PYX-106, and actually backed local musician Kevin Thompson on one number — when he wasn’t talking to audience members, that is.

See, Ian Anderson’s show was a “Rubbing Elbows” affair, an apt name both from a standpoint of the intimate chumminess that he hoped to evoke with this odd ball kind of approach, and from the standpoint of acknowledging the carpal tunnel syndrome prone Anderson’s preferred method of greeting, in lieu of the traditional handshake.

Does that all sound like it mighta coulda shoulda been a self-indulgent train wreck from an audience observation standpoint? It did to me (despite my long-time fondness for Anderson and Jethro Tull alike), and I think it would have been in the hands of a less genial, thoughtful, and erudite performer — but Anderson managed to make it all work charmingly and effectively, nicely filling two sets over nearly three hours, seemingly leaving the capacity crowd pleased and impressed with what they saw, heard and experienced.

And not just because of the talk, mind you, either, since the music was jolly delightful as well. While we didn’t get to hear “Aqualung” (the song), for instance, we did get to hear the rarely-played acoustic hearts and soul of Aqualung (the album) when Anderson and company offered a back-to-back, somehow very poignant and touching twofer package of “Cheap Day Return” and “Mother Goose.”

I can imagine either of those songs surviving and still being performed 100 years from now as representatives of the great folk music of their time, as I could with other tunes offered Tuesday night, like “Up the ‘pool” and “Christmas Song” and even the first edit of “Thick as a Brick.” And that’s because, when you strip away from Jethro Tull and Ian Anderson the concepts behind the concept albums, and when you strip away the flute and the codpiece and even trusty old Martin Barre, then what you’re left with are some truly lovely, truly literate songs that hold up exceedingly well, absent all their usual embellishments.

Good for Ian Anderson for choosing to share these songs — and many others, including a robust selection of primarily instrumental cuts from his solo albums Divinities and The Secret Language of Birds — in such a fresh and interesting format. I can now count him as my first four decade musical man (having seen him live in the ‘70s, ‘80s, ‘90s, and Naughts), and he’s never bored me, never once, nor have his songs — which are going to live on for years and years after he’s passed the point of sitting on sofas onstage or watching Martin dear Martin play “Aqualung” for the four millionth time. Goody goody.

Concert Review: The Damned (Valentine’s, Albany, New York, October 8, 2002)

The Damned earned themselves a well-known and oft-quoted place in modern musical history books by issuing the U.K.’s first punk single (1976’s “New Rose”) and the first full-length British punk album, Damned Damned Damned, in 1977. A year later, after the poorly produced and dismally reviewed Music for Pleasure, the original band imploded — and that, for all intents and purposes, was the end of the Damned as a vital punk concern. But not, fortunately and gloriously, as a vital musical concern: throughout the ‘80s, the Damned issued a stellar sequence of albums, wherein they managed to channel punk’s energy into great, dark, theatrical pop music (without the cheese factor associated with most “New Wave” music of the day), while somehow also managing to cast the visual and sonic template for much of the Goth movement in the process.

The early ‘90s found the band drifting a bit, toying with nostalgia for a spell by reuniting the original band, then working through prolonged legal and creative roadblocks rising from tension between founding members Dave Vanian (vocals) and Rat Scabies (drums). But by 1998, with Scabies out of the band (having essentially self-released the dubious and marginal Damned record Not of the Earth, over Vanian’s protests), fellow founder Captain Sensible (guitar) and Vanian built a new version of the band, featuring Patricia Morrison (onetime bassist for the Gun Club and the Sisters of Mercy), keyboardist Monty Oxy Moron and drummer Andrew “Pinch” Pinching (ex-Janus Stark and English Dogs).

It was this version of the band that played Valentine’s Tuesday night, touring behind their latest record, Grave Disorder, which marked the first batch of officially sanctioned new Damned studio tunes since 1986’s Anything. And let me tell you, Bob: this version of the Damned was as kick ass and classy a rock band as any I’ve seen, and I can’t help but think that if they were unknowns fighting their way up through Clubland, any number of record labels and music magazine would be falling all over themselves to dub them the next U2, the next Strokes, the next Radiohead, or the next whatever the record labels and music magazines were excited about at that particular moment. There are benefits to being in the history books of times a quarter-century past, sure, but getting fresh and open-minded listens from the industry are not, apparently, among them. Which is a damned, damned, damned shame, since new songs like “Democracy,” “She” and “Would You Be So Hot (If You Weren’t Dead?)” held their own most emphatically with the classic war horses and thoughtful album cuts that filled out Tuesday’s set.

The startlingly-young-and-healthy-looking Vanian was in fine voice throughout, his sultry and powerful baritone stylings closer to the more potent bits of the Jim Morrison or Bono canons than to Johnny Rotten or Joe Strummer’s barks and whines. And the ever affable bloke Captain Sensible somewhere along the line managed to turn himself into a real guitar hero, laying down string after string of sweet, sweet solo lines, just so and just right. Morrison, too, proved herself to be a virtuoso on her instrument, her left hand moving like a spider on crack, doing everything it could to get up that freakin’ waterspout, taking numbers like the seemingly straightforward “New Rose” or “Neat Neat Neat” into places where punk-flavored songs rarely have the audacity — or opportunity — to tread.

Those two Damned Damned Damned-era nuggets were set highlights, as were the expected “I Just Can’t Be Happy Today” (a demi-hit from ‘79’s Machine Gun Etiquette) and the U.K. chart-topping single “Eloise.” It was also a treat, though, to hear savage renditions of unexpected cuts, such as “Disco Man” (a B-side to 1981’s “Friday the 13th” EP), or “Under the Floor Again” (a minor, rarely anthologized track of the Strawberries album in ’82). Based on the total package delivered by the Damned Tuesday night, I think they’ve still got it in ‘em to earn another important page or two in tomorrow’s musical history books, which should make for a damned, damned, damned good read.

Concert Review: Korn (Pepsi Arena, Albany, New York, June 23, 2002)

If you spend as much time reading, writing and talking about music as I do, you get pretty well accustomed to people regularly, blindly bitching about the quality of music in their own time, preferring instead to look back over their shoulders to lift up yesteryear’s tunes as the ones that really mattered, man. But I’m starting to get a point in my appreciation for modern metal where I’m inclined to lift up the early twenty-first century, right here, right now, as an era when not only were great metal bands making great metal music, but they were actually getting popular while they were doing it.

Last year’s (deserving) critical and commercial chart toppers were System of a Down, and based on what I’ve heard of Korn’s new album, and based on what I saw when the Cali-bred quintet dropped a down-tuned bomb on the Pepsi Arena Monday, I’m thinking that Jonathan Davis and company are gonna be the (equally deserving) banner-holders for metal that matters in 2002. They’ve done it, in part, by astutely distancing themselves over their past two albums (the new Untouchables and 1999’s Issues) from the puerile musical masqued maggortry of the Slipknot/Mudvayne side of the metal house, and the equally odious rap-metal cock-rockery of Limp Bizkit and their legions of imitators.

In short, Korn sound like Korn — and nobody else. And that’s become a really, really good thing as the group have honed their chops and taken their low-riding seven-string guitar-driven sound into all sorts of interesting new directions, none of them wanting in the least in the wallop department. Jonathan Davis has grown, too, managing to get both his low range bellow and his high pitched warble to work well for him, sometimes in the same song — or even the same line of the same song.

Davis was in fine voice Monday night, with a look to match as he stalked the stage like some sort of modern Rasputin, decked out in black dreads, a fuzzy sort of long sleeved sweatery-looking thing, and a fabulous floor length caftan-cum-skirt. He was anti-fashion and anti-lookist to the Nth degree, and was deliciously compelling for it, as he stalked and twitched and raged through a generous selection of fan favorites from throughout his band’s career, with “Falling Away from Me” and “Trash” from Issues, “Here to Stay” and “Thoughtless” from Untouchables, and “Faget” from Korn’s eponymous debut standing as the most vocally impressive of the lot.

Which is not to say that his bandmates weren’t impressive themselves, mind you. Guitarists James Shaffer and Brian Welch (the latter of whom also doubled up excellently on backing vocals) have finally dragged me, reluctantly, to the point where I can begin to accept the seven-string guitar as an instrument worthy of admiration, in large part because of what they did with the top end of their axes — instead of just grinding away on the extra low string. And that was cool, since bassist Reginald “Fieldy” Arvizu defined the bottom down just fine on his own, holding his bass in a unique, nearly vertical position as he played deeply percussive patterns around which drummer David Silveria rumbled and clattered. When it all clicked, it was nothing short of awesome.

As opposed to, say, Puddle of Mudd, this year’s frontrunners in the Nirwanna-be sweepstakes, and Monday night’s middlin’ middle act. The straightforward rock quartet have got three tunes in regular rotation on regional rock radio — all of them the kind of nondescript songs that don’t make you change the station, but also don’t make you turn the radio up louder when you hear them. Ho hum, but still the high points of a quickly forgotten set. Deadsy (featuring Elijah Blue Allman, spawn of Cher and Gregg, on vocals and guitar) were much more intriguing during their opening set, creating a powerful Marilyn Manson-meets-Swans sound, capped with noisily neat synth-guitar and keyboard horrors. Elijah’s got a pretty compelling baritone voice that makes his material sound more interesting than it probably is, but I’m certainly willing to be sucked into his rock star fantasia with him if he and his bandmates can build on this impressive first taste of their fare.

Concert Review: Isaac Hayes and the Cyrus Chestnut Quartet (Proctor’s Theater, Schenectady, New York, May 4, 2002)

It isn’t too hard to make a case for Isaac Hayes as the most influential and accomplished entertainer of the 20th Century’s second half. The versatile musical icon wrote, arranged and played on many of the great Stax Records’ hits of the ’60s and early ’70s, and his breakthrough solo disc, 1969’s Hot Buttered Soul, provided the very template upon which the Memphis soul would be built. Hayes also recorded some of the first raps to ever penetrate American radio listeners’ consciousness, becoming the first African-American performer to earn platinum record sales in the process.

With 1971’s Shaft: Music from the Soundtrack, Hayes also became the first African-American artist to win an Academy Award for an original soundtrack, while creating a gorgeously rich style of arrangement that would deeply influence film scoring — and pop music — for decades. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame recognized and honored his influence by inducting him into its ranks last year, even as Hayes’ seemingly-unassailable popularity reached new heights through his voice work on Comedy Central’s “South Park” and his highly-rated morning radio show on New York City’s KISS-FM mega-station.

So I was certainly stoked as I made my way into Proctor’s Theatre Friday night to catch Isaac Hayes in concert for the very first time, nearly 30 years after having had my earth moved by an older relative who dropped Ike’s Black Moses on my very impressionable little white-bread Carolina cracker skull. But first: the Cyrus Chestnut Quartet, who came out and delivered half-an-hour of truly inspiring jazz, peaking with a passionate rendition of William Howard Doane’s “Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior.” Then, a couple of songs later, Chestnut leaned over to the microphone and asked if Brother Moses was in the house–and, lo and behold, there he was, Isaac Hayes, in the house, with me!

I was grinnin’ ear to ear and forehead to chin as Ike started singing along with Chestnut and company, so happy to see him there, in the flesh, that I wasn’t really even much paying attention to what he was singing. And then Hayes lit into one of his trademark long introductory raps, and it was cool, and I was still grinnin’ big as the rap segued into a jazz spin through “My Funny Valentine,” which was kinda wan, but that was okay, because it was Ike, man, Ike. But then he sang another old jazz standard, and then another, and then he did “Look of Love,” which at least was an old cover I’d heard him do before, and then some more old jazz numbers, for about an hour, and then he waved and left, and I sat, sorta stunned, not grinning much anymore at all, no sir.

I mean, I’d just seen Isaac Hayes live, and I hadn’t heard “Theme from Shaft,” or “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” or “Walk on By.” There’d been no “Never Can Say Goodbye,” no “Joy,” no “I Stand Accused,” none of the old Stax tunes, no “Soul Man,” not even a “Chocolate Salty Balls” or “Volcano” from Chef Aid: The South Park Album. In fact, other than “Look of Love,” there wasn’t a single song that I’d ever heard him sing before. And there was not a single over-the-top arrangement to be heard all night, just straight background jazz, leaving Ike’s voice just sorta hangin’ out there, and while he’s nothing if not distinctive, he’s not got the best range or intonation in the world, and that’s always been cool when it was like he was whispering in your ear, yeah baby, c’mon baby, yeah, and then a gush of strings and organ, but, y’know, Ike just ain’t the kinda singer that’s gonna carry a jazz show as a vocalist, truth be told, painful as it is to me to tell it.

While I respect Hayes for doing what he wants to do, and nothing else, at this stage in his career, not letting the calls from the audience (who dwindled, dramatically, as the evening went on) dictate his agenda, there’s a part of me that thinks that maybe he’s going pointedly highbrow with this jazz thing to offset any damage to his reputation caused by his less-than-motivational work on South Park over the past few years. But I have to tell you: I’d rather hear him singing “Chocolate Salty Balls” with passion than “Night and Day” without it.