I finally got a chance to see my favorite living (non-legend) songwriter last Thursday night at Hal and Mal's and it more than lived up to expectations.
Thomas Jackson, the frontman for Hattiesburg, MS's Thomas Jackson Orchestra opened the show with a half-hour set of originals. He played a blend of bluesy folk songs interspersed with hilarious self-deprecating banter. Thomas was very entertaining and a master of blues guitar technique.
A few minutes later, Chris Knight walked nearly unnoticed through the crowd to the stage. He was a good deal smaller in person than I'd expected. Grizzled and skinny, Knight was (as a Twitter pal noted) the portrait of a starving artist, though I doubt he actually fits that bill.
He opened the set with my favorite song of his, "Rural Route." Chris must have been getting over a cold because he sounded a bit strained on the higher notes, but he still managed to get the show off to a great start.
Next he introduced a new song called "In the Meantime," that is presumably on his new album due this year. Anyone who wasn't a hardcore fan would be hard pressed to know this though, because he never mentioned a forthcoming release. It was a great song though, that easily stands alongside his other material.
Though his voice pushed through the early show hoarseness and grew stronger with each song, Chris wasn't much for between-song dialogue. Besides introducing a few tunes with their titles or one-sentence introductions, all he said the whole night was for the guys at the board to turn down his monitors because he didn't want to have a loudness competition with the crowd. "I didn't come here to rock n' roll" he put it.
Knight spent the next hour and a half playing all his best known songs, including "It Ain't Easy Bein' Me," "Cry Lonely" and his Montgomery Gentry cut, "She Couldn't Change Me."
The crowd, for its part, was larger than I'd expected. It was also at times, disrespectfully loud. Contrasting this, the audience also shut up and sang along quite a bit… especially on the murder/revenge epic "Down the River."
Towards the middle of his performance, Knight unveiled one other new song, (which seemed to be titled) "Times Are Tough." It was a timely exploration of these financially difficult days and the grit it takes for a man to get by. I thought it was a great, powerful song and judging by the wide-eyed glances between audience members, everyone else seemed to agree.
After a short beer break, Chris gave us a three song encore to close the set, finishing up with another crowd singalong, "Framed."
Chris Knight is a man of few words who lets his art do the talking, and it spoke volumes last Thursday night. It was an excellent, longer than expected collection of songs that left me more than satisfied, and anxious for his new album and future live shows. Don't miss him if he books a show anywhere near you.
In the Meantime
Heart of Stone
Down the River
It Ain't Easy Bein' Me
Love and a 45
She Couldn't Change Me
Times Are Tough
Pretty Good Guy
If I Were You
House and 90 Acres
Send a Boat