Eugene Chadbourne is a prolific guitarist/banjo/songwriter who has produced a supremely odd, but brilliant, body of work over the last 30 years. He started out as a performer working with John Zorn, a more famous but just as brilliant an experimentalist. When Chadbourne struck out on his own, he genre-hopped with reckless abandon, from Country to rock to free improvisation.
Playing at the Mill last Sunday Night he started out playing banjo, then switched to Electric Guitar, before capping his set with a short improvisation on the Electric Rake, an ‘instrument’ of his own invention. What impressed me the most about this performance is the offhanded virtuosity he demonstrated — on the stringed instruments at least, the electric rake being an instrument that defies virtuosity. But this was not the Steve Vai sort of virtuosity. Chadbourne used his lightning finger picking to scrape out chromatic sheets of notes, and they contrasted with more purely gestural noteless bursts of sound.
Chadbourne is an artist who has found his own unique freedom as a performer. He didn’t waste much time on talk during his performance, but at the same time he came off as genial and puckish, his face flickering between a variety of expressions, from the blankness of a musician concentrating inwardly on his performance, to manic grins, and bemused sidelong glances, quite literally looking askance, as if to comment on the absurdity of the lyric he’s singing, even as he sings it.
The other performances that night, by Crackety Sax and Evan Miller, are all available here