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Live review: Cody Chesnutt + The Cheap Fakes – The Hi-Fi, Brisbane – 20/10/13

Cody Chesnutt

Some gigs promise much but deliver little. Fewer promise little but deliver much. Probably even fewer again promise much and deliver even more. But what type would tonight’s gig be? This particular Atlanta new-age soul brother – whose new record evokes smooth and dreamy mental images of Prince, Marvin Gaye and Southern-fried gospel – is in town for one night only, and for a soul gig in Brisbane on a Sunday night, perhaps expectations shouldn’t be high.

Enter Cody Chesnutt; a man who will take your expectations of the gig, the evening, and even your life, and lift them tenfold. Tonight, he would not only deliver more than could have reasonably been expected; tonight he’d take this Brisbane audience to church.

Support for tonight comes partly in the form of Brisbane’s own ska-party real-deals, Cheap Fakes. The classy six-piece run through an entertaining set of tight, danceable ska jams that instantly makes Sunday night feel like a Saturday again, as the dreaded Monday blues are fought off with vigour. Starting with ‘All I Know’, the six-piece led by engaging frontman Hayden Andrews are stylish and smooth and as the sound builds and each member solos like their lives depend on it, the audience knows they’re no fakes. Andrews announces the fact that “We’re really honoured to be supporting Cody Chesnutt. He’s been one of our favourite artists since his first album. You guys are in for a treat.”

Treat indeed. After a lengthy setup time, the impossibly cool Cody Chesnutt and his band of four take to the stage; the man himself in trademark blue army helmet and red cardigan, looking lean, mean, and ready to rock our worlds. Not content to rely on older, more familiar material, the set is comprised of songs mostly taken from his latest album, Landing On A Hundred, and lacks nothing for it. “Do you wanna listen to some soul music tonight? Let me hear you say YEAH!” he screams, and the audience respond from the off.

Starting with ‘Everybody’s Brother’ with it’s anthemic chorus, Chesnutt proves himself immediately to be a worker of crowds of the highest order as he has us eating out of his hands within minutes of being on the stage. As we sing “no turning back” loudly, then softly, then loudly again at his direction, Chesnutt grins, poses, sweats and beats around the stage with the energy of a man half his age, and we know we’re in for a pretty special night. This music is the very essence of soul, and Chesnutt knows the importance of putting everything into it and leaving nothing in the tank.

‘What Kind of Cool (Will We Think of Next)’ is next, and this is where his band of hand-picked musicians get their first chance to truly shine as they solo. It’s also apparent at this stage that this will be one of those gigs that goes for ninety minutes but only features about seven or eight songs, as the band jam and songs melt into the fabric of each other and back out again. ‘More Than A Wedding Day’ is next, and Chesnutt explains it is his favourite of the album, being the song that comes closest to describing his recent redemption and acceptance of family responsibilities and dedication to his craft, followed by ‘Where Is All The Money Going?”, which allows Chesnutt to flaunt the range of his vocals and once again lead the crowd in a sing-along. “Even a whisper is powerful,” he declares, “Because everyone in this room is united right now.” Never a truer word.

One of the most monumental roars I’ve ever heard in the Hi-Fi brings the singer back for an encore, and as he walks through the audience shaking hands and hugging strangers, there’s not a face in the house that doesn’t have a big goofy grin plastered across it. Cody Chesnutt is a man who knows how to deliver.

Cody Chesnutt: “The second album was about redemption, without question”

cody chesnutt

WITH A STYLE and approach often likened to Prince, Cody Chesnutt’s music is anything but boring.

“Prince writes the music the way he feels it, and I subscribe to that as well,” he says. “Creatively, there are certain similarities – the diversity and uninhibited expression. The initial writing process is always the same – me and an acoustic instrument, be it a piano or guitar. My aim is to always get the song first; get a very clear vision of what the song is and what I think it should say, then open it up to other musicians and see how the colour in the painting, so to speak. I remember how Aretha Franklin was taken to Muscle Shoals and found all these great musicians, and I began to think I could do the same thing, so I went down there and found my band. There was so much talent. I met my drummer and he knew the keyboard player, the guitar player, and a huge pool of people in the scene, and it came together in a very organic way. I’m thankful for what they all brought to the record.”

Chesnutt speaks candidly about the ten year period between his 2002 debut Headphone Masterpiece and follow-up Landing On A Hundred, including adultery and becoming a father.

“The second album was about redemption, without question,” he says. “But not just for myself. I wanted other people to have their own experience of redemption and I wanted that album to aid people in their own redemptive process and for it to be a part of a healing process. I wanted to understand my role as a father and a family man, and a lot of different things. I took time to grow as a person, and I wanted that growth to be creative too. It was really about making sure I was ready to expose myself again, and making sure I had something to say; something that I could commit myself to.”

An upcoming Australian tour is the start of a busy few months for the Atlanta native.

“I’m beginning to wrap my head around some new songs,” he says. “I have material that I feel strongly about, so I’ll definitely have another album soon. A lot of people have just discovered my last record, so I’ll be touring it as much as possible for the next few months, then I might do some soundtrack work for movies or things like that. What I tell people is to come is to come to my shows with an open mind and an open heart. That’s really all I can ask for.”

CODY CHESNUTT PLAYS THE HI-FI OCTOBER 20.