Frontiers Records "The first song I ever performed in front of a crowd…
- Posted on Jul 29th 2010 12:00PM by Kenneth Partridge
Henry S. Dziekan III, Getty Images
Malin, of course, was covering 'Alex Chilton,' the Replacements' 1987 ode to the legendary singer, guitarist and songwriter. Earlier in the evening, Bill Cunningham, who played bass in Chilton's first band, the Box Tops, asked the audience another question, one slightly less perplexing than the one posed by the Replacements: "What must Alex Chilton's record collection have sounded like?"
"Channeling Chilton," a benefit for the Gulf Restoration Network, hinted at the answer. The concert's eclectic lineup spoke to Chilton's varied tastes and unwillingness -- or perhaps inability -- to repeat himself. Chris Stamey, a member of Chilton's '70s-era punk group, the Cossacks, opened the evening with 'Kangaroo,' from 1974's 'Third/Sister Lovers,' the last of Big Star's three commercially doomed studio albums. Chilton's widow, Laura, played flute, while Norwegian indie-pop heartthrob Sondre Lerche sang lead, giving the tune a cool, carefree feel.
Up next was the New Jersey indie-rock institution Yo La Tengo, who demonstrated the Chilton-like diversity that has long defined its catalog. The trio's first tune, 'Take Care,' also from 'Third/Sister Lovers,' was gauzy and haunting, intense in a Mazzy Star kind of way. From there, Georgia Hubley moved from vocals to drums, and the group kicked into rockabilly mode, starting slow with the summery boogie of 'My Baby Just Cares for Me,' then enlisting garage-punk lifer Jon Spencer for a yelping, hiccupping, switchblade-sharp 'Bangkok.'
On 'Rubber Room,' Yo La Tengo built a wall of twangy, quivering dissonance -- a fine perch for synth-punk original gangster Alan Vega, who wriggled his way up and recited a chilling spoken-word rant. "I'm a psycho in a rubber room," he chanted, voice echoing, eyes no doubt wild behind his dark shades. Far less menacing were the Box Tops, who played a handful of their '60s singles, including 'The Letter,' a No. 1 hit in 1967, and 'Neon Rainbow,' their flower-power left turn of a follow-up. Several Tops stayed onstage to help a still-radiant Ronnie Spector through her classic 'Walking in the Rain,' as well as 'Baby, You're OK,' a Chilton original written in the Ronettes style.
Singer-guitarist Dan Kroha, in town for a string of reunion shows with Detroit trash-punk pioneers the Gories, took the helm for 'Te-Na-Ne-Na-Noo,' a Slim Harpo blues stomper Chilton used to cover. Down the stretch, original Big Star drummer Jody Stephens and latter-day member Jon Auer recreated a series of the group's '70s gems, including 'Back of a Car,' 'Thirteen,' 'In the Street' and 'Way Out West,' written by bassist Andy Hummel, who died earlier this month.
After Auer led Stephens, various Box Tops and several of the evening's other performers though Big Star's 'September Gurls,' Malin came forward for 'Alex Chilton,' one of two songs that would have made sense as finales. (Big Star's 'Thank You, Friends' is the other.) The hometown rocker paced the stage and urged the crowd to stand up, and for the first time all night, folks put down their pizza and pinot and acknowledged the fact that, yes, they were at a rock 'n' roll show. Diners by the dozen screamed for Alex Chilton, as the Replacements might have put it, singing, "I'm in love! Where's my check?"