vic chesnutt and victoria williams

Night of wonders with two eccentrics

Reviewed by Bernard Zuel
July 13, 2009

The Factory, July 10

WHEN Vic Chesnutt, wry, sharp and foul-mouthed, and Victoria Williams, scatty, loose and smiling, are together on stage, the night comes over all Beckett-like. In their banter, their seeming aimlessness, their humour intersecting with pathos, not to mention their touches of madness, they are a transposed Vladimir and Estragon.

Williams, in loose woollen pants held up by suspenders, an old linen-like shirt buttoned to the throat and what looks like a faux-fur bonnet, is op-shop odd and Chesnutt, his damaged legs in baggy pants, a plain sweater and smart hat, is halfway between rumpled and dignified. Like a pair of old vaudeville tramps, together they fill in time, make do, don't always make sense but entertain themselves in their own way.

Opening the tragic comedy in two acts on his own, Chesnutt had sung songs of rambling narratives that blended brutal truths and pointed humour with poignant undercurrents. The set list was arbitrary, his songs simple but charged, like his guitar playing, and his asides

to the small audience progressively took on more of an edge before he wheeled himself off. He has something indefinable but potent.

When Williams arrived, accompanied by Chesnutt playing a makeshift drum kit, she forgot to plug in her guitar, wafted about with various mouth organs and engaged in circular chats with Chesnutt while scratching out parts on her guitar. It was hard not to think eccentric, if not crazy, old woman.

But when she sang she was part Tom Waits, part Nina Simone and part Granny Clampett, capable of oddball melodies and startling attractiveness as well as discursive sidetracks and on-the-edge tones. Her own songs can swing between extremes but to hear her sing Moon River is to walk a very thin line between incredibly real and too bizarre for words.

At the end you don't know if you've seen something wonderful or merely odd, or even if it matters on which side you fall. Which seems about right.

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