The Doctor Is In

Eugene Chadbourne pulls a graveyard shift

The good Doctor
The good Doctor (by Sandy Carson)

Last Tuesday, as Eugene Chadbourne set up in the Salvage Vanguard Theater, rain and hail began to pelt the metal roof in a spattering percussion that accompanied the furious flurry of banjo licks from the mad Doctor. As he trolled through his massive songbook, including “Checkers of Blood” and a new political screed about the recent election, he contorted the instrument into unnatural sounds that defied its typical sensibilities.

“It’s a really strange instrument anyway!” laughed Chadbourne about the banjo in a interview for this week’s Chronicle . “It’s a funny instrument, too, in that just like picking it up and playing, for instance, a bossa nova on it, it raises people's eyebrows. There’s just this expectation of only hearing a certain type of thing.

“And also, people look at improvised music that people make from an academic background, but some of them are people that don’t have any technical musical ability in any traditional sense and just pick up instruments and are fooling around with them. This is a kind of folk music that involves different parts of the community and just seems to happen whether anybody’s interested in promoting it or listening to it or whatever, but just that people do it. You can’t stop it. It’s connected to folk music. There are so many different layers to this though, types of folk or country music that’s done in a very clean style, and people that like it want it that way and don’t want to hear anything freaky going on. That’s the other end of the spectrum. It just all depends on the listener’s perspective.”

Chadbourne’s music certainly occupies the opposite extreme, challenging but rewarding as he wanders through deep holler acid trips that leave no fret untouched. Grimacing and moaning as he improvised across the instrument, his deft picking was coupled with the barrage of amped up noise in the second half of his solo set as he took up his resonator guitar.

“I think it’s a boundary that people play with,” he offered in regard to the sonic onslaught of noise that he often revels in. “It’s a boundary, and people that get into noise, they not only listen to the work of artists that create really noisy music, but they find great joy in noise just around the world. They can sit and watch a building get torn down and enjoy it just as much as if it were a heavy metal guitar solo, maybe even more. But some people never get an appreciation for any kind of raucous music. People are always trying to define music, but it’s really just whatever gives you some kind of enjoyment when you’re listening to it, and it varies from person to person.”

Chadbourne assaults the Salvage Vanguard Theater one more time tomorrow with a local fourpiece percussion ensemble.

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