Ricochet Bar & Lounge, Miami
Thursday, September 28, 2012
Better Than: The ten-year wait to hear these new songs.
Last night, Crossfade's favorite bearded soul crooner/advocate for cranial safety, Cody Chesnutt played an intimate solo show at Ricochet. He previewed stripped-down, delicate versions of songs from his upcoming long-in-the-works album, Landing on a Hundred. He alternated songs with the stories behind them and answers to questions from the audience.
It was just Chesnutt, his helmet, electric guitar, and a crowded room of devoted fans.
"These songs are very personal," he said as he took a seat on the stage. "Get very close to me. I need to feel people."
It's a rare format for Chesnutt, who normally tours with an incendiary soul band. But it's an act that he's taken around the world, from London to San Francisco. Here are the highlights from the return to his home state of Florida.
1. "'Til I Met Thee"
Thanks to curious concert-goers, we learned that this song came to Cody about four-and-a-half or five years ago. As the lyrics go ("I took a stroll down a country road"), there's a country road near where he lives near Tallahassee. He would take walks along this road and that's where he came up with the melody and most of the lyrics. He recorded the first demo all those years ago and continued to tweak the arrangements.
This is definitely a better song than it would have been if he'd moved to a place near a sewage treatment plant or a long path covered in broken glass and pythons.
We also learned that Cody recorded his new album in Memphis, at the same studio where Al Green recorded most of his big hits. He even used the same microphone that Al Green had used. In Cody's estimation, "How Can You Mend a Broken Heart" is "one of the greatest vocal performances in the history of recorded music."
2. "That's Still Mama"
This song is about a young man Chesnutt knows.
"He's 20 now. He was 18 at the time and got into a legal situation. His mother came to the rescue." But an hour after the young man and his mama left the courtroom, Cody witnessed the guy being rude to the very same mama who'd been there when he needed her.
"This is unacceptable in my culture and community," Chesnutt said. So he wrote the song as a warning to the kid and in praise of the mama. "When he heard the song, it made him think about what he'd done. Music is one of the most powerful ways to access the spirit and there's no way to defend against it."
This is true. You'd think kung-fu would do it, but you really have to know what you're doing or else you're just going to hurt your hand when you karate chop that accordion.
3. "What Kind of Cool Will They Think of Next?"
For this song, Chesnutt welcomed to the stage a friend of his, a midwife with a lovely singing voice. They told a story about seeing a "beautiful thing on CNN." Amar'e Stoudemire was promoting a book about fatherhood. Cody likes the book and judges fatherhood to be "pretty cool."
And so while fatherhood is a kind of cool that was thought of a while back, it was still nice to get a book review in between songs. Most musicians just want to sell you a t-shirt, but maybe the music industry wouldn't be on its ass if bands also did cooking demonstrations, gave weather reports, and the other things that we must currently seek out on morning news shows.
In between songs, would it be so hard for the Lamb of God guy to do an interview with that model who walked into an airplane propeller? Bands could take advantage of unused stage space to put on fashion shows of the latest resort styles while they play. We're not saying it's a good idea, but neither is asking a room full of white people to clap along in rhythm.
4. "Everybody's Brother"
Before this song, an audience member asked Cody which artist's discography he would choose if he were only allowed to listen to one for the rest of his life.
Chesnutt plays by his own rules and ignored the premise of the question, as innovators are wont to do. "Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Sam Cooke, Otis, Bill Withers," he listed and then revealed that his next song was "inspired by the sincerity, directness, and simplicity of Bill Withers."
That song, "Everybody's Brother," has been getting a lot of attention. Not just because it's a fantastic song, but also because it begins with the words, "I used to smoke crack back in the day."
Though the new album is about many of his own struggles, Chesnutt told us in an earlier interview that not every story he sings is about him.
Last night, he said, "I wrote this song for myself, for my uncle, guys in my church and community. Guys who had real testimonies." Much of his music is inspired by the pain he sees in the world. Other songs, he said, had been inspired by a "visceral reaction to materialism in hip-hop videos."
5. "Love Is More Than a Wedding Day"
Before playing this song, a testament to the regenerative power of marriage, Chesnutt took a quick poll of the room. "Who here is married?"
What we learned about the crowd at Ricochet is that it was full of single people or people stepping out with someone other than their spouses or wanting to publicly keep their options open for the evening. Only one couple raised their hands and they'd been married less than a year. "Beautiful," Chesnutt said. "That's where it starts." His marriage detector went off as he spotted a guy texting. "That's a text to your wife, isn't it?" The man nodded, much to the chagrin of his date. "How many years?" It was two. "Beautiful," Chesnutt said.
Chesnutt, on the other hand, has been married for 19 years. The song is, he says, his favorite on the album and was written following a communication breakdown with his wife.
"The melody touches me in a special way. I love singing it and I'll sing it forever." Even though he'd just played the song, he went into an a cappella version of the refrain, rejoicing in the melody. It really did seem like the sort of thing a person wouldn't get sick of after 19 years. Fortunately, he does have a few other songs.
6. "Parting Ways"
"Has anyone seen Dave Chappelle's Block Party movie?"
Chesnutt wasn't looking for tips for his Netflix queue; he was in the film and played this song in it. Since then, "It has kind of become my theme song and I open and close all of my shows with it.
"We never know when we'll see each other again," Chesnutt said by way of introduction to his last song. But that's not entirely true. He says he'll be back in Miami with his full band in mid October, but we suppose anything could happen between now and then. Have you checked yourself for ticks lately? Lyme Disease is the exact sort of thing that could ruin your plans to make it to a Cody Chesnutt show. Based on the last couple of times we've seen him, dude's in no hurry to actually get on stage. Our advice if you see him next month is to bring an air mattress in case you need to sack out before the show starts or if a sexy Chesnutt fan falls into your arms and begs that you consensually make love with them.
An Embarrassment of Chesnutt Riches: Though covering songs is something Cody said he does "rarely and normally won't do," he did contribute to Me'Shell Ndegéocello's
upcoming Nina Simone tribute album, due October 9. Cody will be playing, "To Be Young, Gifted and Black."
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Chesnutt Uniform Watch: For those keeping track, he wore his usual helmet and cassette t-shirt. This time he had the red cardigan on, not the yellow. He looked pretty badass and if our military got to dress like this, it seems unlikely that any of the countries we occupy around the world would be nearly as upset about it. Who'd be upset if Cody Chesnutt kicked down the door in the middle of the night? Sweet! Extraordinary rendition by which Cody Chesnutt takes you on a private plane to Eastern Europe, where he'll preview renditions of new songs? That sounds ... extraordinary.
What does Cody Chesnutt smell like? Last night, at least, a hint of coconut and marmalade. Very impressive for a guy who seems to wear the same clothes every time he performs.