Performing Arts Center, Sept. 15
Higgins story could be something out of Pynchon’s Vineland
or latter-day Philip K. Dick. Young idealistic hippie
has a great run in a legendary New York City band named Random
Concept, tires of the musical rat-race and urban blight, and
retires to the steadier pace of his bucolic Connecticut hometown.
Plays CSNY-laced folk in local bars on the weekends, gets
involved in Nixon-sponsored dope-selling, which gets him ensnared
by predatory turncoats. Facing a lot of hard time for living
the life of a rogue rose, Higgins gets his compatriots together
for what may be one last testament, and after 40 hours with
a 4-track makes the American equivalent of Nick Drake’s Pink
Moon. Thirty years later, Ben Chasny and Drag City come
a-calling, and Higgins is redeemed, his lost album remastered
and rereleased. The question is, who the fuck is this Gary
Higgins character now? Is he wizened and bedraggled, barely
able to strum a chord or croak a verse?
Higgins came out to play, he looked healthier than most of
the hipsters who sing his praises, kind of like someone your
dad would go fishing with, stocky and bearded and wearing
a baseball cap. He sat and started playing his Martin, and
when he sang all the elaborate music-history pretensions of
an alt-rock critic faded away, we just saw a gifted songwriter
and musician playing with some talented old friends.
made this a great concert was how the band enlivened and developed
the ideas laid down on their eponymous LP. The singing and
playing of cellist Maureen Wells was a plangent counterpart
to Higgins’ stronger-than-ever meditative keen. Gary’s son
Graham played placid but bluesy solos that were strengthened
by the muscular guitaring of Higgins’ stalwart compatriot
Jake Bell. The quirky keyboards of Terry Fenton brought in
the steely wind of Cleveland’s Pere Ubu, and harkened back
to the heady psychedelia of the Silver Apples (which isn’t
as anachronistic as one might think, since the Apples’ Simeon
played with Higgins and Bell in Random Concept). On “Down
on the Farm,” Higgins (while playing fractured funk drums)
sang a prison tune about “squeezing bull” (they told him it
was a cow) with a Beefheartian twang that I’ve only heard
Mitch Elrod approach in authenticity. We knew he could do
pensive, we knew he could do sad—who knew the man could groove?
On the shoulda-been-a-hit “I Can’t Sleep at Night,” Red Hash
plied the deep blues trench that Brightblack Morninglight
almost beat to death on their latest album.
years after what they might have thought was the end, Gary
Higgins and Red Hash improved on their great, admittedly scarce
recorded material, and left you wanting to hear where they
might go next.