...it's just a strangely nervous performer acting out the word "shambolic"...

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London Islington Union Chapel

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London Islington Union Chapel

“This is not going as well as I expected,” sighs [a]Vic Chesnutt[/a], voicing the thoughts of his audience with uncanny accuracy. Of course, when they turned up tonight they were probably preparing for the Georgian singer-songwriter’s perceptiveness to manifest itself in an entirely different way. Like, through some [I]songs[/I]. Instead, there’s a lot of silence, a lot of false starts, and a slow erosion of goodwill, barely contained by Chesnutt‘s charm. “You think I would write a fuckin’ setlist, wouldn’t you?” he drawls, as another song is truncated for reasons only he knows. “But that would have been uncharacteristic.”

Unfortunately, equally uncharacteristic is a set that drags like a concrete block. Despite strong affiliations with [a]Lambchop[/a], Giant Sand and Calexico, Chesnutt’s never really captured the alt-country heart, never quite shaken off the worthy-but-dull albatross. It’s always seemed unjust – blessed with a vivid lyrical gift and a kudzu-covered, eloquently expressive voice, there should be no reason why he shouldn’t find a spot on the best-dressed back porches. Tonight, though, it’s only the twitch and flutter of ‘Bernadette…’ and the acrid panic of ‘Dodge’ that do him justice; otherwise, it’s just a strangely nervous performer acting out the word “shambolic”.

“Must… redeem… self,” he growls, and everybody laughs. But only just.