On the second stop of his North American tour, Vic Chesnutt appeared somewhat frail and overshadowed before the size and scope of his trusted collaborative backing band, which since 2007's North Star Deserter has featured several members of Montreal's Thee Silver Mt. Zion Orchestra and Fugazi guitarist Guy Picciotto, among others.
Sonically speaking, the gut-wrenching orchestral thickness of the challenging opening moments overwhelmed more than a few in the crowd. But following the breezy cool swagger of "Concord Country Jubilee," the wry and quirky mystique of the Athens-based songwriter took little time to pierce through the musty air, exemplifying the incredible range of the ensemble in the process. Later, catapulted by some stand-out musicianship and hair-raising grandeur ripped from the newly released At the Cut, the blossoming beauty of "Chinaberry Tree" and the emotionally charged "Flirted with You All My Life" delivered unprecedented intensity, at one point prompting Chesnutt to bluntly admit that "we just had a moment there." Overall, this inspired team effort reinforced the belief that the ever-talented melancholic master of ceremonies is running on some invigorating new blood these days.
While the unanimous audience favourite was the confessional "Coward" — the musical equivalent of a wounded soldier with an over-the-top orchestral counterpoint — the twangy reverb-soaked vibe of "You Are Never Alone" best displayed Chesnutt's twisted humour and tactical skill as a collector of absurdities. In the closing moments, the audience was treated to a touching rendition of "Granny" before launching into a scraggly impromptu acoustic version of "Gravity of the Situation," an old welcomed ditty from 1995's memorable Is the Actor Happy? album.