Live: Big Star At Brooklyn Masonic Temple
This show seems half-assed in a way that everyone is frankly really pleased with, most of all Alex Chilton, of course, a blithely nonchalant power-pop deity loping amiably through a clutch of '70s hits with the aid of a couple '90s alt-rockish power-pop dudes who deified him (Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow, they of the Posies) at a late 2009 show at a Masonic Temple in Brooklyn, ostensibly to promote a box set. And why the hell not. "We love you Alex!" some dude yells, after a raucous, ragged-guitar-solo-besotted "Don't Lie to Me." "Welcome to New York!" someone else yells. "It's not New York--it's Brooklyn!" some lady corrects. "You too, Jody!" a fourth dude adds, making sure Mr. Stephens, behind the drums as always, also feels welcome. And then it's off to "When My Baby's Beside Me," and everybody's suddenly feeling super good about themselves.
I say "half-assed" because sometimes Alex and Jon and Ken all look at each other mid-riff with the quizzical, bemused expressions of dudes playing a song together they have not played together in many years, if they've ever played it together at all -- there is a ramshackle inelegance to even frail, delicate ballads like, say, "The Ballad of El Goodo" or the mighty "Thirteen," which of course only makes them more frail and delicate and affecting. Jon nods to original Big Star co-songwriter Chris Bell by wailing the hell out of "I Am the Cosmos"; Ken does much the same with the epic, histrionic "Feel," the band's most karaoke-proof song, nailing it and receiving the warmest, loudest burst of applause from a crowd feeling plenty warm and loud.
They also feel a bit confused, occasionally, when Chilton drags the band through a jammy frat-party white-r&b number or three; the boys triumphantly return for an encore ... in which they lurch through Todd Rundgren's "Slut," a frequent choice but still a very, very bizarre note on which to end. "Pretty good, but a lot of filler" is the scuttlebutt in the men's room. Of course, the last time I was in this joint it was full of smoke and some dude dressed as a potato bug was screaming at me, so. Perhaps it's best to fixate on Big Star's penultimate tune, "Thank You Friends" -- "for making it all so probable," as Alex warbles, and the improbability of all of this makes you more thankful still.