It’s easy to dismiss Columbia, the album documenting the University of Missouri concert last summer that brought Alex Chilton and drummer Jody Stephens back together. Posies Ken Stringfellow and Jon Auer sat in to replace original bassist Andy Hummel, who wasn’t interested, and key Chilton songwriting partner Chris Bell, who died in a car accident many years ago. Granted the album has some problems: the performances are less than full-bodied, and while Chilton’s front-man persona isn’t as haphazard as it can be, the energy it communicates is only faintly evocative of the virtuosic atmospheric control on the original group’s three early-70s albums. But give Columbia a chance and it coughs up some subtleties. The swampy pop Chilton’s been screwing around with the last decade or so has disguised some frayed emotional nerves; perhaps that’s why he passes on Bell’s “I Am the Cosmos,” with its lilting, plaintive chorus “I really want to see you again.” (Auer sings it, and does a good job.) And spotted throughout the record is something close to magic: in the gorgeous “The Ballad of El Goodo”; in “Thank You Friends,” stripped of its sarcasm; and in the never-so-optimistic “September Gurls.” Despite its faults, this record simply blows away another recent reunion album, the overhyped Velvet Underground Live MCMXCIII. Chilton’s show this weekend may see him build on Columbia’s strengths or slink back into the swamp; but remember that he is a being from another time, and that those atmospherics he alchemized will never be heard again. Me, when I go to see Alex Chilton, I go to pay my respects. The opener, Ben Vaughn, is a very smart quasi-novelty artist whose new Mono USA sees him trundling through a collection of 18 fairly obscure songs–country, surf, R & B, other stuff–lovingly recorded on a home eight-track and affectionately sung in his flat but expressive voice. If rock ‘n’ roll were college Vaughn would get an A in anthropology. Budding social scientists shouldn’t miss the show. Friday, 7.30 PM, Metro, 3730 N. Clark; 549-0203.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Marty Perez.