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End of the Road

By Mike Hotter

Last Town Chorus

Valentine’s, May 16

Asked recently by a downstate magazine the reason she chose the lap steel as her primary instrument, Megan Hickey (who ostensibly is the Last Town Chorus) replied that there were too many six-stringers in the world already (oh, how true), and, “you know, I’m not Hendrix.” That didn’t stop a fair amount of local guitar enthusiasts from attending last week’s early Last Town Chorus show to see how she wails on that there magic twanger. We read that she can make grown men weep with the thing, and while I didn’t feel very weepy this evening, I can attest that Hickey pours forth a stirring, resplendent sound from underneath her ever-sliding and -plucking hands.

Touring in promotion of her latest CD, Wire Waltz, Hickey made Albany her final stop, and she mentioned that the only thing separating her from her couch in Brooklyn was this show and a three-hour drive. The dark gods of the road conspired to make this last set a treacherous one. The loud pounding of a band sound-checking upstairs distracted the band and the audience enough for Hickey and her acoustic guitar accompanist to abandon a couple of tunes. Hickey plays gorgeous, depressive music, much in the same mold as Cat Power and Tara Jane O’Neil. Most of these songs depend on setting a mood, and Hickey found a hard time setting it this evening. Certain songs would break free of the morass, most notably “Change Your Mind” from the band’s first CD. Hickey played a soaring, distorted solo that made one think of skies arcing the canyons, pretty impressive in the confines of a rock & roll den.

But the show seemed too much like a chore to endure for both the performers and the audience, however pretty the sonic wallpaper. Buzzes from faulty equipment and uncomfortable banter that bordered on confrontations with partying dudes in the crowd didn’t help matters. Hickey did get it together for her signature cover of Bowie’s “Modern Love,” though even this seemed feigned on this particular night. Hickey went a long way toward redeeming the show with a marvelous cover of Lee Ann Womack’s “Painless,” playing a call and response between her plaintive voice and her keening lap steel to make this the most affecting song of the night and something bright to take away from what turned out to be a rough end for the Last Town’s tour.

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