So let’s say one day you find yourself thinking, “I wish I could go see the 1978 Clash, only instead of a four-man punk band, they would be rolled into one bald, sweaty guy with a 1937-vintage acoustic guitar. And instead of being just deadly serious, The Clash would simultaneously be as socially conscious & hilarious as Richard Pryor was at his prime. I wish I could go see a show like that.”
Well, dear readers, as always Pencilstorm is here to make your wishes come true: This Friday, July 25th, The Hungry Soul Café (downtown at 30 S. Young Street, phone 224-1944) will present Hamell On Trial, a solo acoustic rock & roll act that has been described as “Bill Hicks, Hunter S. Thompson and Joe Strummer all rolled into one” by Philadelphia Weekly and a “one-man Tarantino flick: loud, vicious, luridly hilarious, gleefully & deeply offensive” by New York’s Village Voice.
Showtime at The Hungry Soul is 8 pm, tickets & reservations are $8 in advance, admission at the door will cost you a laughably minimal $10. Parking meters around The Hungry Soul need not be fed after 7 pm, so parking is essentially free. For more info and reservations, visit firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please note: Video is not for the faint of heart. If you are easily offended, you'd best skip it.
Hamell On Trial by Ricki C.
Pencilstorm Conflict of Interest Statement: I served as road manager for Hamell On Trial for 10 years, 2000-2010, before knee surgery for a torn ligament sidelined me and made it infinitely more difficult to traipse around these United States hauling guitars & amps and making nine & ten hour drives between gigs. But make no mistake, boys & girls, for those ten years I worked every night in the presence of greatness, and I would mean every word of this blog whether I had ever traveled & worked with Hamell, or just stared up at him on the stage from the audience, awestruck from the other side of the footlights.
I first encountered the phenomenon that is Hamell On Trial at the South By Southwest Music Convention in Austin, Texas, March 1996, at a huge outdoor Mercury Records showcase – 10,000 people in the street on a gorgeously warm Texas afternoon/evening. Ed was signed to Mercury then, his first record, Big As Life had just been released, and they were using him to keep the crowd occupied between the other performers' sets (God Street Wine, The Refreshments, and Joan Osborne - for those of you scoring at home). While roadies scurried around changing out amps, drums, etc. Ed would play from the very front of the stage, maybe five songs at a time, three sets in all.
From the very first dive-bomber kamikaze guitar strums and the staccato spitting delivery of the best lyrics I had heard in years it was rock & roll love at first sight. The next day I lucked into seeing him at a really, really small coffeehouse in his allotted South By Southwest slot. I was there to see the act following him and had arrived early to snag a good seat. While Ed was setting up I thought to myself, "Cool, this is the guy I saw yesterday at the outdoor show, but how the hell is he going to play this tiny coffeehouse? He'll have to tone the act down so far it won't work."
Only he didn't tone it down. He played a fifty-seat coffeehouse at exactly the same manic intensity and nearly the same volume he played the huge outdoor show. People walked out of the place wincing and holding their ears during the first song. I, on quite the other hand, was in six-string sonic heaven. This was everything I had been looking for since I quit playing in bands and started doing solo acoustic shows: extreme volume and attitude, great lyrics, a sense of humor. This was fiercely intelligent rock & roll played on an acoustic guitar with no hint of lingering folkie kum-ba-yah-ism.
I saw him again in March 1997 at South By Southwest and he had a whole set of new songs potentially even better than the ones I saw him play just a year earlier (including "The Vines," the song that ended my 20-year career of warehouse work and sent me into music full-time.) In August of '97 he played Columbus and I cadged my way onto the bill as the opening act. I got to the club early, watched his soundcheck, screwed up my courage and walked up to him as he was packing up his guitar. I held up my CD covers to Big As Life and The Chord Is Mightier Than The Sword and said, "Hi, I'm your opening act and I just wanted to get the gushing fan stuff out of the way. Could you autograph these for me?"
I was fully poised, balanced back on my heels, ready to take off if he growled, "Motherfucker, do you think I don't have anything better to do than sign your little CD's?" Instead he smiled and said, "Ah, you got my CD's. Do people know who I am here?" I said, "Yeah, you get airplay on our local NPR station, I think it'll be a good crowd." I thanked him and started to walk away after he signed and he said, "Hey, come on back to the dressing room and we'll talk." I replied, "No, I don't wanna bother you." (First rule of opening acts: Never ever, under any circumstances, bother the headliner.) Ed said, "I'm in that car eight hours a day, every day, by myself, I never get to talk to anybody, come on back." I looked around. "Don't you have a roadie?" I asked. Ed replied, "Do I look like I can afford a roadie?"
It turned out we had bought all the same records in all the same years (Lou Reed, The MC5, The Stooges, Mott The Hoople, The New York Dolls, Patti Smith, Jim Carroll). We'd both witnessed nature’s most perfect rock & roll organism – The Who in 1969 – fifteen days apart: November 1st (me) and November 16th (him) when Keith Moon ruled the universe. We lived very similar rock & roll existences: i.e. played in bands for years, then went solo acoustic. We had the same kind of working class reprobate rocker friends; him in Syracuse, New York, me in Columbus, Ohio. It was like we were brothers who grew up in different zip codes.
When he was going onstage that night I said, "Hey, I've seen you play before, I know you're gonna break strings. Why don't you show me where your extra strings & tuner are and I'll switch them out for you if anything goes wrong." He just stared back at me and said, "Really?" "Yeah," I said, "doesn’t your opening act offer that wherever you go?" Ed replied, "No, nobody ever offers anything, anywhere, anytime."
I played roadie that night. I helped out around the Midwest after that. When tours with Ani Difranco came up in 2000 I got a tryout and made the grade. I stuck around. – Ricki C. / January, 2012
(editor’s note: As always, because it IS Ricki C. after all, this piece has been heavily edited & condensed from the original. For the complete blog, please visit Hamell On Trial, Growing Old With Rock & Roll, January, 2012.)
apropos of not much more than that I got to meet Wayne Kramer of The MC5 last Sunday at a Shadowbox Live gig, here's a bonus encore video of Hamell On Trial.