Yesterday marked the 10th anniversary of that famous blackout that hit New York and parts of the Eastern seaboard for much of the afternoon and evening. How ironic, then, that we turn your attention today toward the impending release of a previously-unreleased live concert from the late Alex Chilton, recorded under similar circumstances.
Electricity by Candlelight showcases an unbelievable set by the Big Star frontman on the floor of New York's Knitting Factory on February 13, 1997. Chilton was in town for two performances at the venue; before his second set of the night, however, The Knitting Factory inexplicably lost power, and refunds were issued. But in an almost too-good-to-be-true twist, Chilton and touring drummer Richard Dworkin made their way to the floor. Chilton accepted a random concertgoer's loan of an acoustic guitar, and played.
What happened next was more than a dozen ethereal covers, from Loudon Wainwright III ("Motel Blues") to Joni Mitchell ("A Case of You"), standards including "The Girl from Ipanema," "My Baby Just Cares for Me," "Someone to Watch Over Me," "I Walk the Line" and "If I Had a Hammer." In a brilliant hat tip to one of his most transcendent pop contemporaries, he also performed The Beach Boys' "Wouldn't It Be Nice" and "Surfer Girl," plus relative obscurity "Solar System," from 1977's Love You.
Recorded by a concert attendee, a Mr. Jeff Vargon (who also penned the set's liner notes), Electricity by Candlelight certainly bears all the earmarks of a lo-fi personal recording. But, either by luck or by virtue of the unbelievable scene taking place, the audience is respectful of this up-close-and-personal set, allowing for the best possible presentation of Chilton's strumming and that inimitable quavering voice. The disc also features a rare studio track, a cover of Johnny Lee's country tune "You Can Bet Your Heart on Me," from a European compilation released in 1993.
Electricity by Candlelight is available from Bar/None Records on October 8. Amazon links are not yet live, but a track list is below.
Electricity by Candlelight/NYC 2/13/97 (Bar/None BRN-CD-220, 2013)
- Last Bouquet
- Step Right This Way
- Let's Get Lost
- Raining in My Heart
- Lovesick Blues
- The Girl from Ipanema
- My Baby Just Cares for Me
- Motel Blues
- Someone to Watch Over Me
- Footprints in the Snow
- A Case of You
- Wouldn't It Be Nice
- Surfer Girl
- Solar System
- I Walk the Line
- If I Had a Hammer
- You Can Bet Your Heart on Me
Tracks 1-17 recorded at The Knitting Factory, New York City - 2/13/1997
Track 18 released on Love is My Only Crime (Intercord/Veracity Musik IRS CD 986.966 (EU), 1993)
"Wouldn't it be Nice" to see Alex Chilton doing The Beach Boys,
Chief Brody says
That show literally happened almost three months to the day after I left my hometown of Queens for Detroit. My mom died exactly a week BEFORE the show, and I was in town to visit her one last time. A buddy told me that Alex was coming to the Factory, and I really, really wanted to go, but there was just way too much going on, obviously. So this release definitely means a LOT to me on a personal level, not just musical. I'll be getting it for sure.
Jeff Vargon says
Great article; you have captured the gist of this recording perfectly. A couple minor corrections though: this was the second set of the *evening* as the first went off without a hitch; the club lost power before Alex could take the stage for the second. The recorder's last name is Vargon.