Cody ChesnuTT at Triple Rock Social Club, 2/8/13
|Photo by Reed Fischer|
Triple Rock Social Club, Minneapolis
Thursday, February 7, 2013
Let's talk about the case of the two ChesnuTTs.
There's Cody ChesnuTT, the neo-soul outlier who sang "I got a dick full of blood" in a love song without wincing. A fearless, dazzling confessor. Then there's Cody ChesnuTT, man of god, with whistle-clean hymns extolling love and fidelity, indicting money and sloth. An Al Green in a powder-blue helmet.
Your opinion of Thursday's Triple Rock show was probably determined by which of these two men you know best.
The show was packed. Not quite sold out (unofficial headcount was in the upper 200s), but dense enough that, should the holy spirit have moved anyone on the floor to dance a step (it didn't), there would have been many upended drinks, knocked elbows, profuse apologies.
Gut instinct suggests that most of this crowd was deeply taken with Landing on a Hundred, ChesnuTT's 2012 follow-up to the The Headphone Masterpiece almost a decade prior. It was a good night for them; ChesnuTT performed as though his earlier, more profane, less adept, infinitely more interesting album never existed.
ChesnuTT sounded better than he ever has, hitting most of the demanding flutters on torch songs like "'Til I Met Thee" and missing not one step on triple-time closer "Gunpowder On the Letter." For most, this was a first encounter with ChesnuTT. Who knew what to expect? Even on the squeaky-clean Landing on a Hundred, ChesnuTT couldn't conceal (despite his efforts) his deep eccentricity, an inner lewdness which makes even straight love songs like "'Til I Met Thee" sound a little bent. And mark ye this; the man looked fucking GOOD. His powder-blue helmet and crimson cardigan is something of a uniform for him now, but it works, and its flamboyance, its faint menace, clashed with his humble, grinning demeanor.
But a strange thing happens when an artist who has long been accepted by his cult as an eccentric outlander suddenly and successfully passes with the mainstream as a pop-star. There's a tension, a confusion among those who knew the man he once was and were not made privy to the terms of his transformation (ChesnuTT is intensely private). There's a cruder tension, too, when 50 people in the house are waiting for "My Woman, My Guitars" while the other 200 are swooning over "Under the Spell of the Handout." It happens whenever an artist changes his image, his approach.
But the profusion of ChesnuTT's talents have, until now, been secondary to the peculiarities of his spirit. Few people were magnetized by ChesnuTT's singing prowess on The Headphone Masterpiece. Nor, in their defense, were they simply titillated by his profanity. They were won by his extraordinary candor, which bordered at times on lunacy, a candor which showed up in his songcraft too, and his performance; raw, flubbed notes, carpentered guitar chords, the snaps and pops of the master recording. On that album, ChesnuTT was the most unusual of divas, at once egomaniacal and utterly unaware of himself.
The spitshine on Landing on a Hundred is more than a matter of production; it's a matter of ChesnuTT's redemption, and it informs his outlook, his onstage demeanor, his material, and his approach to it. He's buffed away his rust and wear and arrived at the Triple Rock a redeemed man to the delight of many and the dismay of a few. So it goes, I suppose; but as good as he looked and sounded, there was room in the crowded venue for a little mourning over the man he once was, some grumbling from those who felt that his redemption has not been totally lossless.
Personal Bias: More fond of ChesnuTT when he was singing about how nicotine withdrawal made him hate his own kids.
Overheard: "Cool, but only kinda." And, for that matter, "Are you here yet? This is the show of the YEAR!"
The Crowd: 70% Minnesota Wild jerseys, 20% afros and sequined leather, 10% knuckle tattoos.
That's Still Mama
'Til I Met Thee
Under the Spell of the Handout
What Kind of Cool
Love Is More Than a Wedding Day
Where Is All the Money Going
Don't Wanna Go the Other Way
Gunpowder on the Letter