Jesse Malin, Yo La Tengo and More Pay Tribute to Alex Chilton in New York
Alex Chilton led one of the richest, strangest lives in rock 'n' roll history. He was, at various points in his 43-year career, a soulful teenage hitmaker, a power-pop innovator, a tender folkie, a CBGB punker and a rockabilly rebel, among other things. Beloved by many, unknown to many more, he played in Big Star -- one of the most influential bands of all time -- yet never became one himself. "If he was from Venus, would he feed us with a spoon?" admirer Jesse Malin sang Wednesday night at City Winery in New York, closing out the evening's "Channeling Chilton" tribute show with a kind of Zen riddle, one way of trying to suss out what, exactly, the Memphis rocker, who died earlier this year, was all about.
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Malin, of course, was covering 'Alex Chilton,' the Replacements' 1987 ode to the legendary singer, guitarist and songwriter. Earlier in the evening, Bill Cunningham, who played bass in Chilton's first band, the Box Tops, asked the audience another question, one slightly less perplexing than the one posed by the Replacements: "What must Alex Chilton's record collection have sounded like?"
"Channeling Chilton," a benefit for the Gulf Restoration Network, hinted at the answer. The concert's eclectic lineup spoke to Chilton's varied tastes and unwillingness -- or perhaps inability -- to repeat himself. Chris Stamey, a member of Chilton's '70s-era punk group, the Cossacks, opened the evening with 'Kangaroo,' from 1974's 'Third/Sister Lovers,' the last of Big Star's three commercially doomed studio albums. Chilton's widow, Laura, played flute, while Norwegian indie-pop heartthrob Sondre Lerche sang lead, giving the tune a cool