The Real Deal

John Wesley Harding - Kelly Hogan

Schuba's - Chicago

[December 3, 1998 - Early Show]

First Appeared in The Music Box, February 1999, Volume 6, #2

Written by John Metzger


On December 3, John Wesley Harding settled into Schuba's in Chicago for the first of four shows over the course of two days. The intimate venue was fitted with rows of folding chairs and served as the perfect outlet for Harding's solo acoustic performances.

Harding recently completed recording Trad Arr Jones, his follow-up to the outstanding Awake. At the early show on December 3, Harding performed two songs (Little Musgrave and The Flandyke Shore) from this new disc, which is due on February 23 from Zero Hour Records. If his performance on this evening was any indication, Trad Arr Jones will be a clear departure from the sounds Harding explored on Awake.

Harding has always moved into new territories with each album that he has produced, and his new record company Zero Hour appears to be allowing him to grow and change as an artist. Both of the new songs were set in Victorian England and find this talented singer/songwriter stepping back into a more traditional folk-based sound.

Throughout his December performance, Harding frequently engaged the audience with delightfully hilarious banter, while struggling with the tuning of his uncooperative guitar strings. After joking about becoming a born-again Christian, he launched into a stunning rendition of Madonna's Like a Prayer and later performed Quasi's You Fucked Yourself. Consequently, the evening coalesced into a relaxed and easy-going performance of fifteen songs that allowed him to paint a broad picture of his career, with a few twists thrown in for good measure.

Harding ripped through a furious The Devil in Me, concluding the song with a rapidly increasing series of strummed guitar chords. He also delivered a powerful Ordinary Weekend and satisfied a request from an audience member with a gently flowing Still Photo. However, as with his last visit in town, he saved his best performances for his material from Awake.

You So & So was emotionally-charged as Harding tenderly delivered his heartfelt lyrics and allowed his carefully picked guitar accompaniment to flow into the familiar melody of The Beatles' Blackbird. On It's All My Fault, Harding was joined by singer Kelly Hogan, and the pair recreated with astonishing accuracy their beautiful vocal duet from Awake. Hogan remained on stage for It's Only Make-Believe, the popular Conway Twitty/Jack Nance tune, and again the duo matched their vocals perfectly with one another, building the song to a passionate crescendo.

Hogan opened the show with a short, 30-minute set that consisted almost entirely of cover songs from artists like jazz singer Nancy Wilson, Neko Case, and Buck Owens. Her confidence grew with each song that she performed, and by the time she concluded with a jazzy number written by Bob Dorough, she clearly had stated her case as one of the best female vocalists in the business.

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Copyright 1998 The Music Box