Monday, 1 July 2013

Big Star's Third - Central Park Summerstage review - 30th June 2013

I was fortunate enough to see Big Star back in 2008. 18 months later, Alex Chilton died of a heart attack, leaving behind one of the most under appreciated and brilliant catalogue of songs ever recorded.

Big Star - Shepherds Bush, London, 28th August 2008
When Big Star's Third was announced as an event at this year's Summerstage at Central Park I was at first curious, then I saw the list of guest performers in addition to the orchestra and I thought it would turn out to be one of two things. Either a wonderful evening filled with spectacular songs, or a grandiose bore-fest. Two things put my mind at ease before the event, first of all, the songs themselves are so brilliant I thought it would be very difficult to mess them up and frankly, I couldn't see people like Jody Stephens and Ken Stringfellow (who of course was in Big Star from 1993-2010) allowing that to happen. Thankfully those who attended were served up a spectacular evening of songs. 

A word about the setting, Central Park is of course beautiful, I have seen a few concerts here in the last 18 months and the Summerstage series is always varied and ran very well. The sound is spot-on, particularly for an outdoor event and the food on offer is great, special shout out to Pizza Moto, who make amazing pizza (it should be for $5 a slice...). On the bad side it's annoying when people lay claim to large parts of the ground with blankets, on a busy event it causes people to have to bulge out to the sides when they should really be able to just stand where they want. You're at a gig, not a picnic... but for the most part the organisers are on the right side of doing things.

Whilst this was billed as a performance of Third/Sister Lovers in full, we were also treated to many other Big Star classics before and after the "main" set, including Back of a Car, In the Street, Thirteen, When My Baby's Beside Me, I could go on but you hopefully get the idea. 

Ken Stringfellow
I had a quick peak at a review of the show they did at Chicago a couple of nights before, which made for slightly troublesome reading, citing numerous false starts, bum notes, ill-prepared singers blatantly reading off of lyric sheets, etc, thankfully that was not particularly present at all here; Marshall Crenshaw checking his phone during Oh Dana and a re-start of Nightime due to a feedback problem were the only noticeable issues.

Jody Stephens left the drumkit to take center stage for a few songs, including a lovely rendition of For You

Jody Stephens
We didn't get the album in order, although the exact ordering of the album has always been a bit ambiguous anyway. One dissenting voice in the crowd was complaining loudly that no-one was mentioning Alex Chilton, the perfect reply came from the stage via Django Haskins (who among performing was the designated announcer) who said "everything we're doing tonight is about Alex Chilton". In essence, what could have been an event laboured with sentimentality was dealt with love, everyone (performers and audience) knew why we were there, because Chilton's songs have touched us, we got a few nice anecdotes during the evening but the songs speak for themselves. 

One highlight of the evening saw one of my favourite singers, Sharon Van Etten (who also lives in my neighbourhood, I keep hoping I'll bump into her one day!) deliver a beautiful duet with Ken Stringfellow on Dream Lover.

Ken Stringfellow and Sharon Van Etten

Even if she isn't, I can pretend she's looking at me, right?
Jonathan Donahue of Mercury Rev was tasked with singing Holocaust, and he did a fine job. I'm a fan of the Mercury Rev anyway but what might have seemed like a strange pairing of singer and song was much closer to Chilton than you would possibly think. 

Jonathan Doahue
I have yet to mention the orchestra, who are certainly deserving of some praise, many of the songs on Third/Sister Lovers do feature strings of course, and so it was beautiful to hear them fleshed out in full.

I don't want to clog up this review by naming all the guests, Mike Mills filled in on numerous songs either playing bass or singing, and while REM are no more I will certainly take what I can get! His vocals on September Gurls were fantastic. Another highlight was seeing Television's Richard Lloyd play guitar on a few songs.

Mike Mills
Richard Lloyd

After two and a half hours, the evening drew to a close, as fireflies sparkled during the evening, Alex Chilton's legacy shines evermore. 


  1. You're a Ditmas Parker? As am I! I'll look for ya at the Sycamore sometime!

    1. Yep, I love the neighbourhood. I don't tend to go to the Sycamore that much, mostly because I don't really know anyone, which is a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy I guess! Do say hello if you see me out and about!