Cody ChesnuTT at the hi-dive, 9/12/13
Cody Chesnutt at the hi-dive last night, seen through the lens of an iPhone with cracked back (not an aughts-era, first-gen, flip-phone, appearances to the contrary).
Between the chill of an autumn-like evening in Denver, and the soggy state of south Broadway, you couldn't have picked a better night for Cody ChesnuTT to arrive in the Mile High City and anoint us with his particular brand of soul. ChesnuTT left no margin for error in the assessment of his hipster cred, donning the same battle helmet, red cardigan, black slacks and vintage cassette-tape T-shirt that he has been seen wearing in promotional photos for the last two years. His aura was pure charisma, taking the stage and defiantly thrusting his guitar in the air to the loud cheers.
The material here was exclusively from his criminally overlooked (and kickstarted, BTW) album, Landing on 100. The album arrived late last year and was quickly forgotten about by most music fans, and disrespected by most music blogs. ChesnuTT clearly believes in the power of his new work, and the way he and his band (keys, drums, bass and guitar) set about recreating these songs was nothing short of extraordinary.
The small-club vibe of the hi-dive lent itself perfectly to the roadhouse R&B of "That's Still Mama," the first single from the album and the first song of the night. People bopped and bounced up and down, couples started grinding on each other and everybody was smiling. Without a lot of fanfare, ChesnuTT went into "Til I Met Thee," the album's second single and arguably the catchiest song released in the past two years.
What's amazing to watch is ChesnuTT's transformation from sheepish, middle-aged, oddball genius into something that you imagine Marvin Gaye would have become had he lived. ChesnuTT bridges '70s beard-sporting, deep-thinking Marvin back to hitchhike, dance-all-night Marvin, and wraps it all up in sanctified love. The result is no less than pentecostal.
It was no surprise when he invoked the healing nature of music as he offered up an origin story for another gorgeous track on the album, "Love is More than a Wedding Day." As the band chugged out the mid-tempo groove, ChesnuTT implored the couples to "dance with your partner if you know you're in love." The couples in this room were way ahead of him.
ChesnuTT is a different kind of star. Fiercely indie and considerably older than anyone you might call his contemporary, he has morphed into a man of the people. He frequently left the stage to sing and dance in the audience, and during "Do Better to the Young," he went so far into the crowd that he disconnected his mic cord. He never stopped singing, or missed a beat, even without a mic. It all felt like a sweet mini-concert for the front six rows.
Of course, the reason that anyone was here is because, way back in 2002, the Roots covered his song "The Seed" (which originally appeared on new millennium opus, The Headphone Masterpiece) for their biggest hit and featured him on the record. From there, ChesnuTT quickly became a poster child for the rising neo-soul movement, and he wisely excused himself from its demise less than a year later.
That said, every time there was a quiet moment between songs, someone in the crowd yelled out for "The Seed" or "Serve This Royalty." During the show's brief and unexpected encore, ChesnuTT addressed the requests and stated that he would no longer perform songs that he wouldn't feel comfortable singing in front of his children.
He freely admitted that both "The Seed" and "Serve This Royalty" are "dope" songs, but he earnestly appealed to the maturity of the crowd and respectfully denied their request. He instead closed by singing "Thank You/so much/from me/to you." In that moment, more than any other, ChesnuTT created a new space, and new energy for all the music that he is making now.
Earlier in the night, folks clogged the doorway of the hi-dive and witnessed an electrifying set from local act the Ever. Made up of four slim, handsome guys (featuring CRL CRLL on keys and vocals), the Ever packs a punch that lands squarely in the middle of the xx and Audioslave. Their presentation was so compelling it threatened to outshine second support act Brtha.Sista.
A NYC quartet featuring a female lead, Brtha.Sista served an adequate and predictable array of black rock. Their songs were just alt enough but lacked any real edge. Their lead singer was charming if not particularly charismatic, and the band came across as road-weary. This was definitely not one of their best sets.
Personal Bias: Personally, I think the music on Landing on 100 outshines anything on The Headphone Masterpiece. That's not a diss to that decade-old certified classic; it's a compliment to ChesnuTT's growth as an artist. Like so many of his early fans, I came to know Cody ChesnuTT through the hallowed halls of music nerds. But honestly, aside from a few really groovy songs, The Headphone Masterpiece is low-fi fodder for guys who would rather sit around and compare it to Shuggie Otis than actually listen to Shuggie Otis.
Random Detail: The homeboy made a great point when he said, "You know a cat is good when he does an hour and it doesn't even feel like it."
By The Way: Cody's voice was strained and he admitted he was tired. A little constraint went a long way to underscoring heavy records like "Where Is All the Money Going" and "Don't Wanna Go the Other Way"
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