Vic Chesnutt, Clem Snide, Buffalo Billiards, Friday, March 16

Live Shots: South by Southwest 2001

Vic Chesnutt, Clem Snide

Buffalo Billiards, Friday, March 16

There was some stiff competition for the last two showcase slots of Friday night, with Lucinda and company over at the Music Hall, the Secretly Canadian indie-mope contingent squatting at the Copper Tank all night, and the bulging Brit-pop occupation of La Zona Rosa, but one man -- one slight, unassuming, nervous-looking man -- could not be passed up. Plain and simple, when Athens' dark bard Vic Chesnutt deigns to play, who are we to look the other way? With that choice made, one other -- time of arrival -- was made simple by the fact that New York quartet Clem Snide were playing before Chesnutt. Clem Snide, which started out as a loud and fast rock outfit, has been releasing gorgeous, quiet albums that combine country roots with sophisticated, orchestral pop arrangements since 1997. But as is often the case, what is subtle in the studio turns brash on the stage, and singer-guitarist Eef Barzelay and the rest lit a fire under themselves, turning the inspired laziness of songs like "Nick Drake Tape" and "Yip/Jump Music" off '97's You Were a Diamond into bona fide rockers. Much of their set was drawn from the upcoming SpinArt release The Ghost of Fashion, the barbed wit of "Junky Jews" and the veiled bitterness of "No One's More Happy Than You" blending Barzelay's guitar with Jeff Marshall's upright bass and Jason Glasser's cello into a chamber-tinged cacophony of thick, beautiful pop. As Chesnutt was running a bit late, Clem Snide got to dig a bit deeper into the bag than most during a showcase, the new "Don't Be Afraid of Your Anger" and "Moment in the Sun" rocking much harder than expected. When Chesnutt did take the stage, the mood in the room took a definite turn, as everyone craned to see the man, his wheelchair center stage, flanked by an acoustic guitarist on each side and no more. Playing almost exclusively brand-new songs, Chesnutt's new material packed all of the expected lyrical punch that's made him a songwriting standard unto himself. The sound of three guys strumming acoustic guitars and harmonizing, whether or not Vic Chesnutt is involved, can't help but evoke a certain Americana-like quality, but the lyrical edge of the new "In Amongst the Millions" and "Evident," off last year's Vic Chesnutt and Mr. and Mrs. Keneipp, not to mention a nightmarish tune about spiders in a Cuisinart, assured that there would be no senseless prettiness this night. Chesnutt held everyone rapt, and when he left without an encore, we could only accept it. Vic had spoken, and that would have to be that.

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