Electricity by Candlelight by the now deceased Alex Chilton, chiefly famed as the boy prodigy behind the hitmaking Box Tops, comes as a bit of a surprise. Rather then being a reprise of his elder days and later solo career, a slice that saw much critical acclaim but not a hell of a lot in sales, it's a live review of a slew of other composers' songs favored by the tunesmith and performed at NYC's famed Knitting Factory. Forget that it's being presented way the fuck late, 16 years after its documentation, Bar None Records coming to the rescue, because the entire thing is pretty damned unique no matter what the circumstances, even more so for its non-glitzy urbanity.
What Electricity is, is a bootleg recording made by diehard Chilton fan Jeffrey Vargon. That fateful night, 2/13/97, Alex's band had performed one set and was scheduled for a second when the power failed in the venue being serenaded. Many audients took a refund, opportunistic bastards, but a number remained in situ and were rewarded by a guy who just didn't cotton to the idea of robbing fan hopefuls of what might have been their only chance to catch him at work. They found themselves treated to a string of songs chosen on the fly and performed by Chilton on an acoustic guitar lent him by, of all things, an audience member. Every once in a while, that kind of thing happens.
I remember going to see The Moody Blues, Jefferson Airplane, and a then-new group going by the byline of 'Hot Tuna' at the L.A. Forum in the 70s. The Airplane came on first, put on an expectedly great set, and then came its sub-corporation, Hot Tuna, which entranced everyone with a killer blues recital. Grace Slick re-took the stage and announced that The Moodies had been held at LAX on a drug charge and would not be playing. Those who wished a refund could get one, but, regardless, The Airplane was going to cover for them should any wish to stay. I'm happy to say few left, and the band put on a great show for, all together, four and a half hours, if I recall correctly, and the second half was even better than the first……from what I can remember of it, that is. I was really fucking stoned.
Electricity is kinda like that but WAY stripped down, one of those unexpected pleasures you get when sticking by artists through thick and thin. I mean, here's a repertoire of 18 songs Chilton knew by heart over and above everything he'd written up to that moment, including The Box Tops, Big Star, and solo materials (Feudalist Tarts, etc.). The recording's mid-fi and comes across like some guy busking at a coffee stop…except this one's bantering with the audience, encouraging its participation (here calling it the 'December Boys & September Gurls Choir'), sitting amid laughter and conversation.
As the cover sticker says, this was the first and last time he ever did most of these songs, and this issuance of Electricity is probably the last time you'll get to hear them by the lad, as I don't foresee too many reprints of Electrcity in the future. That sort of thing just doesn't happen. And by the by, do you know how Alex died? Of a heart attack that could've been easily prevented but he hadn't health insurance. So, hey, thank ALL our fuckwad presidents from student shooting Ronald Reagan up to the present drone bombing mass surveillance a-hole, and, yo, Boomers, a hell of a lot of us are going to go the same way. It ain't the 70s no mo', ya know.
Maybe it never was.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2013, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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