There’s darkness on the edge of town, and it’s from there that Townes Van Zandt writes and sings. Van Zandt’s vision is as bleak as the Texas landscape and as desperate as a parched man wandering that landscape in search of water and salvation. On guitar he’s one part Lightnin’ Hopkins–sparse finger picking, occasional flurries and arpeggios, an intimate meld of melodic and vocal lines–and several parts 60s-era folkie: some of his most effective work is strummed ferociously in minor chords. What elevates him above the folkie pack, though, is his fusion of tragic vision and hope-against-hope optimism: in his fables a gambler’s cards become living entities, conspiring with Satan to lure a man to ruin; a young outlaw slits his mother’s throat to steal her jewelry; a vaporous demon tries to seduce a singer into a life underground. Yet in that last story the singer frees himself from the demon’s grasp and chooses life: to Van Zandt, faith isn’t a religious conviction or even a defense against the void–it’s the only game in town. Saturday, 10 PM, Schuba’s, 3159 N. Southport; 525-2508.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Peter Figen.