12:13 PM CDT, October 8, 2011
Van Hunt’s concert Friday at a sold-out Schubas ended the way it began, in a hail of feedback.
In between those noisy bookends, the full range of the singer’s musical passions were on display, showing his progression over four increasingly contentious albums (one of which, “Popular” in 2008, still hasn’t been officially released because his record company at that time couldn’t embrace it).
Hunt is a Grammy-winning artist who was kicked to the curb by the major labels for his adventurousness, but his recent independent release (“What Were You Hoping For?”) hardly finds his creative energies dimmed.
It’s another musical detour in a career full of them, focusing on harder-edged funk and rock. Over a decade, Hunt has tried to do it all, adopting and reconfiguring countless musical styles, but he worked hard Friday to make it all comprehensible in a brisk 15-song, 75-minute set. His three-piece backing band kept pace, leaping genres in the space of a few musical bars. They left room in the music, not only keeping things flexible for Hunt to throw in a few asides, but conveniently leaving a gap for the enthused audience to interject as well.
Drummer Ruthie Price laid off the cymbals while working lean, propulsive combinations on the snare and toms. Guitarist Doug Showalter played chicken-scratch rhythm, jazzy arpeggios or sometimes made like Queen’s Brian May with bombastic arena chords. Keyboardist Peter Dyer spackled the arrangements with space-funk blasts and sometimes filled in the low end when Hunt set down his bass guitar.
The band had to be flexible to keep up with Hunt’s ever-changing musical moods; the deep funk groove of the lusty “Prelude (The Dimples on Your Bottom)," the punky overdrive of “Watching You Go Crazy is Driving Me Insane,” the double-edged recession blues “What Were You Hoping For?” and “North Hollywood.”
“What Can I Say” provided a respite, a sparse sould ballad that moved from delicate to wrenching as Hunt affirmed his chops in the poetic tradition of Smokey Robinson: “She sleeps with the moonlight under her head.”
From that midpoint, Hunt shot off in a half-dozen new directions, an impulse typified by “A Time Machine is My New Girlfriend.” The idea of knocking down walls of time, distance and perception is always implied in Hunt’s music, but here he made it explicit in an arrangement that jumped “1,2,3,4” from the rock ‘n’ roll exuberance of the Beatles or the Ramones, and flirted with dissonance, thrash metal and a hint of jazzy counterpoint. It was almost too much, in a giddy way – Hunt and his band were undaunted by any challenge, smiling and sweating, enjoying the ride as much as the audience.
Hunt finally waded into the crowd, chanting a joyously explicit chorus, then brought down a curtain of noise. Any encore would’ve been superfluous. What more was there to do in a show in which the singer had already tried to say it all?
Van Hunt set list Friday at Schubas
1 Prelude (The Dimples on Your Bottom)
2 Hello, Goodbye
4 Seconds of Pleasure
5 Watching You Go Crazy is Driving Me Insane
6 What Were You Hoping For?
7 North Hollywood
8 What Can I Say
10 Eyes Like Pearls
11 Her December
12 A Time Machine is My New Girlfriend
14 Down Here in Hell (With You)
15 The Lowest 1 of My Desires
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