Big Star treats rapt crowd to luminous set with rare NYC performance in Brooklyn

In an expansive mood midway through a performance Wednesday at the Masonic Temple in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, singer and guitarist Alex Chilton opened his arms wide and stepped to the microphone to address an audience shouting requests.

“Speak your minds, as if it were a Tea Party,” he cracked.

It was far more congenial than all that, and for good reason: Chilton was there for a rare performance with his cult band, the power-pop progenitor Big Star — the first time the group had played a full set in New York since 1996, drummer Jody Stephens noted.

Chilton and Stephens are the only original members (guitarist Chris Bell died in 1978, and bassist Andy Hummel left in 1973 for his senior year in college), augmented on stage by Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow of the Posies on guitar and bass, respectively. Together, they delivered an 85-minute set of jaw-dropping musicianship on song after brilliant song.

Here are three particularly noteworthy elements of a show that was basically one big highlight:

1. Alex Chilton. Alex. Chilton. At least as much myth as man, the one-time Box Tops leader looks like an unassuming middle-aged guy, until he sings. His voice seemed to have barely aged at all, and he handled raucous numbers like opener “In the Street” with the same easy grace he showed on the earnest, delicate coming-of-age love song “Thirteen.” His guitar playing isn’t too shabby, either.

2. Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow. Not that anyone could fully replace Chris Bell or Andy Hummel, but Auer and Stringfellow come as close as possible. They’re ace musicians with a dream gig, and they made it count: Auer sang a gorgeous lead on Bell’s aching “I Am the Cosmos,” Stringfellow handled the snaky groove of “Feel” and the way the pair harmonized with Chilton on “Thirteen” was one of the most beautiful sounds you could ever hope to hear. Lest we overlook him, Stephens was excellent, too, with spot-on rhythm throughout and tuneful vocals on a handful of songs including “For You.”

3. The songs. Implausible as it seems, every song on Big Star’s first three albums is a gem, and they sounded as vibrant in concert as they ever have. Tight as the band was, they managed to find that charming, slightly ramshackle middle ground where nothing sounds over-rehearsed (probably not that tough, given that Big Star only plays a handful of gigs every year).

The set list included perhaps a few too many numbers from Big Star’s 2005 comeback, “In Space,” and not enough from the third album, helpfully titled “Third” (and also known as “Sister Lovers”) — especially given the release in September of “Keep an Eye on the Sky,” a boxed set chronicling the band’s original incarnation(s). But there’s no arguing with “The Ballad of El Goodo,” which featured delicate, chiming guitars and full vocal harmonies on the refrain, or “September Gurls,” one of the most delightful pop songs ever written.

After ending with “Thank You Friends,” the band returned to perform a cover of Todd Rundgren’s “Slut” for an encore. The audience stayed for a few minutes afterward, clamoring for more before a harsh fluorescent wake-up call from the house lights signaled the show was definitely over.

Set list
1. In the Street
2. Don’t Lie to Me
3. When My Baby’s Beside Me
4. I Am the Cosmos
5. Way Out West
6. Till the End of the Day
7. February’s Quiet
8. The Ballad of El Goodo
9. Daisy Glaze
10. Do You Wanna Make It
11. Thirteen
12. Patty Girl
13. Back of a Car
14. A Whole New Thing
15. Lady Sweet
16. For You
17. Feel
18. September Gurls
19. Mine Exclusively
20. Thank You Friends
21. Slut

  4 comments for “Big Star treats rapt crowd to luminous set with rare NYC performance in Brooklyn

  1. brad
    November 21, 2009 at 5:27 pm

    THey also did Parry girl..

  2. November 25, 2009 at 11:12 am

    Thanks for the kind words and for sharing your account of the evening, it’s appreciated and always nice to see. The audiences enthusiasm was pretty touching.

    We did play “Patty Girl” and a song I sang called “February’s Quiet” possibly where you noted “Best Chance…” which I would love to have played but didn’t.

    We all had a great time…wish we could play more often.

    Thanks again.


    P.S. I am still working with John Fry here at Ardent Studios/Music. We have a new release on the Ardent Music label, a creative little band called Star & Micey ( Luther Dickinson and I make cameo appearances on it.

  3. Listen, Dammit
    November 27, 2009 at 7:44 am

    Thank you, Jody, for your help with the set list. And, of course, for all the amazing music.

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