Cody ChesnuTT Reboots at the Independent, 1/29/13
By JAMES ROBINSON
Cody ChesnuTT at the Independent last night. Photos by the author.
Tuesday, Jan. 29
Better than: Staying home and complaining about how bad The New Girl has gotten.
Cody ChestnuTT had his moment in time.
I walked into the kitchen of my family home a long way back and my mother had 'the Seed' turned up loud and was clicking her fingers and humming away like it was "I Wanna Hold Your Hand." But that was the power of that song; it was so unforgettably catchy and fuzzed-out and yet so filthy -- what with its explicit humble-brag about impregnating other women without his lover's knowledge -- that it was bound for glory (with or without the Roots cover that made it famous).
The song itself endures but the moment has passed. Cody ChesnuTT is now 10 years on from his lauded debut, The Headphone Masterpiece, which drew comparisons to Prince and Hendrix. Fronting in support of his sophomore album Landing on a Hundred, ChestnuTT has no remaining cultural wind at his back. There's just a three-quarters full crowd at the Independent to entertain.
The evening does not start promisingly. San Francisco's Siddhartha open with a blend of garage rock that is at best perfunctory and at worst completely unoriginal. The band does not seem comfortable in its own skin and the crowd projects back a pretty mean case of the Tuesdays.
After a hyped-up intro from local soul maestro Martin Luther, ChestnuTT bounds on stage in his trademark helmet. His swagger has not gone, even if he does look a little like a hip-hop Napoleon Dynamite. The slightly subdued atmosphere about the place suddenly has a little life.
There have been some changes to the act since Cody ChestnuTT was last part of the cultural landscape. His 10-song set includes no old material. "What Kind of Cool (Will We Think of Next)" and "Everybody's Brother" have a smart self-awareness that wasn't there a decade ago. The sexual braggadocio has vanished: "That's Still Mama," "'Till I Met Thee" and "Love is More Than a Wedding Day" reference in turn his mother, God, and his wife (whom he namedrops with a dorky smile several times during the song).
ChestnuTT smiles awkwardly at several requests for old material. He is battling illness and toward the end of his set thanks the crowd for bearing with him. A lady yells back, "It's because you look good in leather!" (In reference to his song of a similar name about how good he looks in leather and has superior sexual prowess.) In response, he seems to wince back at her.
His four-piece band is tight. They move seamlessly over lighter, bouncier pop that evokes a little Jackson 5 feel, through swampier funk and into gospel and soul. ChestnuTT has a pretty impeccable Mick Jagger strut that he switches out nicely with a soulful preacher routine.
The crowd eats all of it up. For ChestnuTT to fall off the radar for a decade and return with a set that foregoes the hits, but still wins everyone over, says something about his performance chops.
The show is somewhat slight and runs barely an hour. Kind of awesomely, ChestnuTT eschews an encore in favor of an instrumental outro, a backing track for a furious handshaking session with the front rows of the crowd.
Cody ChestnuTT may have changed in some ways, but his cool prevails.
Overheard: "Every time I think of Cody ChestnuTT I'm reminded of Joey Chestnut, the hot dog eating champion." (Long pause.) "That guy was impressive. He beat Kobayashi."
Boo! Three young girls and a much older man were passing a bowl between them in the second row, inadvertently smoking out both the singer and drummer, who in turn did not seem impressed.