Hamell on Trial, The Molice, Green Schwinn
Thursday, February 21, 8pm, $10 **
Punk/Acoustic/Spoken Word Legend
Picture an acoustic guitar and a bald sweaty fucker with a predilection for punk.
Hamell on Trial is the musical alias of New York-based folk punk hero Ed Hamell. A one-man explosion, he is loud-as-war one minute, stepping off the microphone to whisper to an enthralled audience the next. This is a dynamic performance informed by politics, passion, intelligence and the all-important sense of humor. His caustic wit and devil-may-care attitude has long been a favorite of anti-establishment icons Aesop Rock, Kimya Dawson, Ani DiFranco and the critical elite inciting Rolling Stone magazine to call him “Bald, bold and superbad!” Henry Rollins says “Hamell is a one man rock show!” He has been described as “Bill Hicks, Hunter S. Thompson, and Joe Strummer all rolled into one” by Philadelphia Weekly and a “one man Tarantino flick: loud, vicious, luridly hilarious, gleefully and deeply offensive” by the Village Voice.
Ed Hamell picked up the guitar at age 7 and started writing songs not long after. In his early 20s, Mr. Hamell was the front man and writer for an original band, but local bands were a dime a dozen in the tough, working class neighborhoods in Syracuse, NY. So he launched a one-man act called “Hamell on Trial.”
Armed with his battered 1937 Gibson acoustic guitar, Mr. Hamell toured the country, then settled in Austin, Texas, where he found a receptive audience for his esoteric mix of songs and story telling. In 1995, Mercury Records signed him straight out of the SXSW Music Conference and released Big as Life and The Chord is Mightier than the Sword.
A few years later, and a move to Brooklyn, NY, brought Mr. Hamell and Ani DiFranco together. He signed with Righteous Babe Records and released Tough Love in 2003, followed by Songs for Parents Who Enjoy Drugs in 2006. Subsequently, he has toured extensively with Ms. DiFranco, and has collaborated with her on several songs.
Performing in and around the New York scene prompted Mr. Hamell to rediscover the roots of his hurricane-force musical style and authentic cutting edge world view. His response, The Terrorism of Everyday Life, is a one-man theatrical show which combines story telling, comedy and songs into a brilliantly outrageous theatrical event. Mr. Hamell explores family, politics, religion and death through his journey as a working musician, man of the street, and father of a young son.
Mr. Hamell was invited to perform at the 2007 Fringe Festival in Edinburgh, Scotland, where The Terrorism of Everyday Life earned five-star reviews in the Metro, Edinburgh Review, and Three Weeks, and was awarded the Festival’s prestigious Herald Angel Award, the highest honor the Festival gives to the most outstanding performance each year.
His tenth album, Tackle Box, is his second for New West Records and features all instruments and sounds played by Hamell himself, with the exception of one. Hamell states, “The first voice you hear on the album is Donald Trump. It’s from a campaign rally where he was saying he’d like to punch a protester in the face. His supporters cheer. I thought I’d kickstart the album making people aware that, should they disagree with that attitude, should they find his actions deplorable, his lies, his vanity, his lack of grace and intellect, his pandering to the lowest common denominator, his inciting violence towards minorities and the disenfranchised, they could find safety here at a Hamell show, from a Hamell song. Let us remember that he did not win the popular vote, his supporters are in the minority and I will treat them with all the respect THEY show minorities. The first voice you hear on the album is Donald Trump. ALL other voices you hear on the album, in firm and resolute opposition, are mine.”
Tackle Box was co-produced by the Grammy award winning producer Phil “The Butcher” Nicolo (Bob Dylan, Ms. Lauryn Hill) and features the controversial song “Not Aretha’s Respect (COPS),’ an autobiographical tale teaching his child how to not get shot by a police officer. “‘COPS’ is a song about parenting. My son is 15, I’m teaching him how to drive. I’m explaining, because he has the ability at home to explain his side of the story to me, that he might not have that chance when he’s in a situation with a police officer. Say ‘Yes sir, no sir’ and come home safe to me. The boss ain’t always right, but he’s always the boss. All four incidents in the song actually happened. I play all kinds of gigs, house concerts, theaters, diy punk rock rooms and the kids love this song. It’s even has a chorus they can sing along to and rally behind. Last year I was touring across the country with my son and the day after we played Dallas, some cops got shot. I wish no violence on anyone. I preface my introduction to this song live now by saying I just wish the good cops would call out the bad cops. This “Code of Blue” thing is helping no one. And if we don’t think it’s a race thing, well…”
Once again we see Hamell uncompromising, fearless, obscene, insightful, absurd, angry & poignant and, in a first-time-ever ploy, including four children’s songs…for balance. Hamell says, “I threw the four ‘FROGGY’ songs in there, trying my hand at children’s songs if you will, to maybe make sense of what the American Dream is or maybe was. In the four songs, interspersed throughout the album, we see the character Froggy as a child, courting, running a business with his wife, and finally surrounded by his grandchildren. This is how he interprets success. I think in light of all the volatility in the country, I needed to remind myself of happier times or potential. And of course the listener, after so many confrontational topics, needs a little refuge.”
Hamell tours the world constantly, seemingly enjoying every performance challenge. From larger stages and theaters, winning the coveted Herald Angel Award at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, to house concerts and DIY underground spaces, this is a man who clearly loves to play.
His last show in Buffalo was at Susan Tanner’s memorial at Babeville in May of 2017.
Armed with a battered 1937 Gibson acoustic guitar that he amplifies mightily and strums like a machine gun, a politically astute mind that can’t stop moving, and a mouth that can be profane one minute and profound the next, with Tackle Box, Hamell sets his sights on the new America and issues personal and spiritual. His performances invoke thoughts of the great, rebellious satirists and social commentators of the past: Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor and Bill Hicks. Hamell is a great mind with acoustic punk rock mixed with a seeker’s soul. There’s no way around his obscenity but in that is a willingness to fight for the free thinkers of the world. Don’t we need that now more than ever?
“Hamell on Trial: Tackle Box (New West) From track one, which follows a snatch of you-know-who’s “I’d like to punch him in the face” by promising Hamell’s gang of misfits “You’re safe here,” to track 16, where the 62-year-old gets teary about a marriage eight years gone, this is an album I’ve been waiting for. Counting the lust song that quotes a mouthy Australian’s anti-American analysis at length, only four tracks are explicitly “political,” including a misfire aimed at bulletproof blankets. But “The More You Know,” about raising a teenage son in the age of you-know-who, and the homely, specific, devastating “Not Aretha’s Respect (Cops),” about “I’m trying to teach him to Not Get Shot,” are the best protest songs yet by an antifolk ranter who’s never soft-pedaled his militantly nonviolent anarchism. And I should also mention the four kiddie ditties about the life cycle of a cartoon frog—as you’ll learn from the laff-riot live Big Mouth Strikes Again CD you can own if you buy the vinyl and stream if you don’t, this mouthy touring machine has a G-rated set he’ll serve up on request at folk festivals and other family affairs. Either way he’ll say it loud, flail his 1937 Gibson, and rock as hard as The Clash. Randy Newman too subtle for ya? This ain’t. A” – Robert Christgau, Noisy/Vice
“He’s a master of his craft is Mr. Hamell. A mouthy vendor of scorn who fears for his kid’s future, identifies with the seedy, questions the status quo, fully expects us to give a shit, and takes it all out on his depression era guitar. Punk’s not dead. It’s just jet-lagged.” – No Depression
Here’s a nice long piece from Pop Matters: www.popmatters.com/ella-sinatra-and-hamell-on-trial-the-great-american-songbook-in-difficult-times-2524980444.html
Event page: www.facebook.com/events/481247205741684