Alive and Kicking

Steve Wynn & John Wesley Harding

Martyr's - Chicago

April 24, 1998

First Appeared in The Music Box, June 1998, Volume 5, #6

Written by John Metzger


On April 24, John Wesley Harding and the Steve Wynn Quartet teamed up for an outstanding performance at Martyr's in Chicago. Both musicians have been friends for years, and they obviously enjoy performing together. The collaborations that occurred throughout the evening only served to boost the already high level of energy that pervaded the concert.

Wynn is best-known for his stint with the Dream Syndicate, and with his current band, the Steve Wynn Quartet, he has surrounded himself with an outstanding group of musicians, which include Kirk Swan on guitar, Kurt Statham on bass, and Linda Pitmon on drums. The group delivered an adrenaline-soaked performance that included a number of songs from Wynn's current release Sweetness and Light. The ensemble tore through Silver Lining with an intense passion and sounded much like Crazy Horse's usual pyrotechnic feats of strength. Most of the set was filled with a rapid-fire blitzkrieg of sonic thunder that, at times, ventured into the Byrds-ian realm of Roger McGuinn's Eight Miles High meltdowns.

At the center of Wynn's hour-long set, the group momentarily slowed down the pace with This Deadly Game, which ventured deep into the territory once traveled by The Velvet Underground. Pitmon's vocals matched Wynn's perfectly, just as Lou Reed's and Nico's once did.

After a fifteen minute break, Harding took the stage for a brief solo set. He opened with his anti-gun pairing of A Fan Speaks and Famous Man, which included a small portion of John Lennon's Mother. These are rather obscure songs from his recent outtakes collection Dynablob 2, but he immediately captured the audience's attention with his quick wit and excellent ability to weave a story. During The Red Rose and the Briar, he stepped back from the microphone and sang without any accompaniment. You could hear a pin drop as not a single person spoke.

Robert Lloyd, of Television fame, took the stage, and with Harding, the duo soared through an outstanding version of The People's Drug. But the best performances of the evening were saved for the material from Awake, Harding's latest release and finest album to date.

Throughout the concert, Lloyd floated between mandolin, organ, and accordion, and he is equally adept at all three instruments. Still, it was his mandolin playing that really stood out on songs like Miss Fortune. Lloyd made his mandolin sing and dance around the melody, and he added a beautiful jam to conclude it in a majestic fashion.

Lloyd left the stage momentarily as Harding introduced Sweat, Tears, Blood, and Come. Though Harding joked about removing the words "shit" and "piss" from the title in order to allow the song a chance to appear on the radio, he quickly entrenched himself in the more serious moment and delivered his strongest vocal performance of the evening. It was a tender and emotional rendition, that delicately drifted from Harding's heart. As he finished the lyrics, Lloyd and the Steve Wynn Quartet sans Wynn took the stage and gently joined in on the song, creating a moody backdrop that carried the ballad to a flawless conclusion that was reminiscent of Collective Soul's December. The group remained on stage for the bubbly beat of Window Seat, one of the many infectious songs on Awake. Swan and Statham added a Beatle-esque touch with backing vocals that nearly matched the album version, and Swan added a rip-roaring guitar solo to end the tune.

More surprises were in store as Harding and Lloyd welcomed vocalist Kelly Hogan to the stage. For those who are unaware, Hogan has an incredible voice that fit perfectly with Harding's as the duo turned It's Not My Fault into an ethereal panorama that was backed by Lloyd's stellar mandolin excursions.

The four-song encore featured a psychedelic run-through of Your Ghost and another perfect vocal collaboration between Harding and Hogan on It's Only Make-Believe. As Hogan, left the stage, Wynn joined the group, which proceeded to tear through an inspired rendition of his country-rock song Carolyn. The evening drew to a conclusion with a barn-burning romp through Harding's The Devil in Me, as the devil in Harding made him fiddle with Swan's guitar strings mid-solo. With all the soulless, lyrically deficient corporate rock that seems to pervade the music scene, it's refreshing to see a double bill like this.

John Wesley Harding's Awake is available from
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Copyright 1998 The Music Box