Eric Hutchinson | 06.20.12

live eric-hutchinsonThere is something larger than life in the voice of this average-sized man.

 

Life truth: The best things are worth waiting for. I heard a lot of grumbling over the long line and wait outside of Firebird for the Eric Hutchinson concert. While I agree there’s nothing pleasant about standing on asphalt in the heat, I don’t consider it an oddity to wait in a line outside of a venue. I hear tell that entry was delayed because of a lengthy sound check. While I can’t fault an artist or the sound techs for wanting to give fans their money’s worth and have the performance sound top notch, it is unfortunate that so many people completely missed the opening act because of this delay. The line was so long that it was just impossible to get everyone in the door before the first band needed to start.

As my group of friends and I walked in, Avalanche City was just starting its set, which included standouts like “Drive On,” “The Streets,” and “Sunset.” I have to say that one of my favorite things in the world is not knowing anything about a band, seeing them live, and getting the treat of finding a new gem to admire. Avalanche City is like an opal. The beauty of an opal is created by the spaces inside of the stone which refract the light and create the dazzling colors. Much the same, it is the space between the lyrics, the instrumental choices that highlight the delicate phrasing, that creates the beauty of these songs.

I loved every song. Every. Single. Song. That is the rarest of treasures. If you know me, you know it’s no surprise. I am a huge fan of The Decemberists, and there’s a definite nod to them, as well as Ben Gibbard, in both mood and tone of Avalanche City. I am also a sucker for a glockenspiel. Add in a slide trombone and accordion, and I’m a goner. There’s no possible way for me to dislike this band; they are made of everything I love most. Plus, they had the most adorable t-shirt offerings I’ve seen in a long time. I couldn’t leave without the one with a sailboat forming the “A” of Avalanche City. Please be sure to listen to one of my favorite tunes which perfectly sums up my feelings for them (if you couldn’t tell), “Love, Love, Love.”

What was particularly striking was finding out afterward that Dave Baxter was not playing with his normal lineup of band mates from back in New Zealand. Since bringing everyone to the States for the tour was cost prohibitive, Baxter was introduced to Eleonore Denig and Justin Carpenter through a mutual friend. To know that the three had only been playing together for one week prior to last night was just stunning. The three have a terrific chemistry together, and I had been thinking during the performance that I really enjoyed the interplay of vocals between violinist Denig and Baxter, and how much they complimented each other. I had hoped to hear more of a true duet between them. I look forward to seeing where life takes Denig and Baxter, because they are excellent musicians.

After going home and listening to Baxter with his original band, I found it to be a richer, more layered experience, and I am thrilled at this new discovery.

After some more tinkering with the sound and set up for the main act, Eric Hutchinson’s fantastic band played him on stage with an entrance befitting Elvis—or, more appropriately, Stevie Wonder, whose very spirit is summoned and channeled with every note. Eric Hutchinson does this influence proud. There is something larger than life in the voice of this average-sized man. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out why Firebird was packed to the rafters, and why women especially love Hutchinson. In a Top 40 Stepford world where women are constantly referred to as sexual objects, property, and “bitches” by men, hearing the lyrics of a song like “Rock & Roll” is like a PowerBar to navigate the workout of having lady parts. Even when critiquing the world in songs like “Talk Is Cheap,” there is an overwhelming and refreshing sense of positivity in his songs.

Hutchinson and his band did something to the crowd that is a rarity to see anymore in St. Louis: They made them move their booties. Why is it that nearly everyone in The Lou feels the need to maintain such an aura of bored detachment at concerts? Most of the time, people stand like statues; it’s a stretch to see some simple head bops. It was refreshing to see people let loose a little and stop being afraid of how they looked. There were men bouncing up and down and women doing the twist, and I think if there’d been more room, a few people might’ve let loose with some swing moves.

Hutchinson addressed some other complaints I have of concertgoers, as well, at one point saying, “You know a song just sounds better if you are listening to it? No, really; it’s proven.” He was referencing how hard it seems to be for people to stop themselves from loudly chatting during a show. You would think it would go without saying, but some folks are just so rude and self-involved, it doesn’t occur to them that people go to concerts to hear music, not listen to loud-mouthed brats prattle on about their every life problem. He handled it in the classiest of ways, with his dry sense of humor, and then proceeded to erase any memories of waiting in line and annoyances surrounding us with some soul-infused fun, including hits like “All Over Now.” No one can be in a bad mood with music like that! Especially when there is cute-as-a-Muppet bass player Andrew Perusi, with his oversized afro-fabulous hairdo bouncing everywhere. He was so talented and adorable, I wanted to put him in my pocket and take him out whenever I feel blue.

For me, one of the standout moments of the night was when Hutchinson played “Breakdown More.” He said it was an older song that he kept getting requests for, so he relearned it for the newest album. I think it’s one of his best, and a good counterpoint to the rest of the album. As much as folks want uplifting joyous beats, they also want to be reminded of how low they’ve been, and hear songs that address that and make them feel a little less alone. I am really glad he brought back this tender tune.

The breakout song of the newest album is “Watching You Watch Him,” which Hutchinson described as a song about “being in love with someone who is in love with another someone and that third someone doesn’t give a shit about either of you…an effed-up love triangle.” At the conclusion of that crowd pleaser, he took a little hydration break and deadpanned, “This is fun. I always drink water when I’m having fun… Kidding! It’s straight vodka!” and then proclaimed that the next song was one of his favorites to sing live. Well, sir, “Back to Where I Was” is one of my favorites to hear live. As much as I enjoy the power of his voice when he really belts it out, the restrained and sweeter moments in his vocals really get me; he’s got a beautiful tone.

Afterward, Hutchinson was left on stage alone for a song. He spoke about how, for a long time, he toured by himself across the country in a Honda Civic and so he wanted to do the song “Not There Yet “like I used to do, mano y mano—or I guess manos y manos.” He continued, “I’m gonna name drop here. I wrote this song in Paris, France, recorded it in London, England, and now I am going to perform it for you in St. Louis, United States.” He was then rejoined by bassist Perusi, drummer Steven Robinson and guitarist/keyboardist Elliot Blaufuss for a rowdy cover of The Beatles “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da.” After a couple more songs, the band exited and then returned for their encore with “Rock & Roll” and the funkalicious “Basement.” By the end, I do believe any grumpiness anyone may have had about waiting in line outside was replaced with gratitude for the rockin’ good time they were given inside. Patience really pays off sometimes. | Janet Rhoads

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