Alex Chilton - Electricity by Candlelight (Bar None)

From the depths of disaster comes true innovation – something the Big Star singer knew very well

Released Oct 21st, 2013 via Bar None / By Lewie Peckham
Alex Chilton - Electricity by Candlelight (Bar None) It could have been easy for Alex Chilton to just take it as a sign to stop, pick up his money and leave, maybe live up to the temperamental reputation he had garnered in his later years. He had already played a set earlier in the evening at the Knitting Factory in New York before an unexplained power cut had made the possibility of this second set a wash out. Instead of doing what many might have expected of him, Chilton borrowed an acoustic guitar and played a short set of (sometimes aborted) covers, the result of which makes up Electricity by Candlelight, taken straight from the soundboard and presented here in all its ragged, charming glory.

There is no reason why Alex Chilton, here at 57 and three years before the heart attack that unfortunately took his life in 2010, wouldn't have a jukebox-like repertoire of covers to play off the top of his head. A teenage popstar at 16, he scored his first No.1 with 'The Letter' while he was in The Box Tops before setting out with perhaps one of the most influential bands ever, Big Star. The common thread to the songs here, chosen spontaneously by Chilton, is how amazingly they flow together. Lesser known, lost classics are shoulder to shoulder with songs where Chilton’s only accompaniment is the warmth of the audience singing along. The album moves at a relaxed pace and with an effortless, carefree, impulsive knowledge of what comes next that most musicians can only dream of owning.

Where Chilton replies to the crowd's calls  for a rendition of Tammy Wynette’s  'D-I-V-O-R-C-E', it manages to last just over a minute and a half before it collapses in a fit of laughter and applause. Songs that are now regarded as modern jazz standards like Chet Baker’s ‘Let's Get Lost’ and ‘My Baby Just Cares For Me’ are played lazily, not in the sloppy or clumsy sense of the word, but in the way you could imagine Alex Chilton playing them at home or in hotel rooms over the decades that his career spanned, playing them for comfort like that riff or chord sequence you always go for when you pick up a guitar or sit at a piano, where each bum note or missed chord compliments the song. Near the last few songs of this improvised set, Chilton plays 'Wouldn't it Be Nice' and 'Surfer Girl' by The Beach Boys back to back because once you hear that intro to 'Wouldn't it Be Nice', so perfect, so iconic, like Alex Chilton you immediately think of scores of other Beach Boys songs that would fit perfectly; the applause that follows both songs shows the audience, clearly on Chilton's wavelength, are grateful that he thinks the same.

Electricity by Candlelight, at its heart, is a tribute to Chilton. Not a sad eulogy on the passing of one of music’s most underrated songwriters but more a celebration of an iconic songwriter’s warmth after a lifetime playing and being immersed in music, forever displaying a love for giving an audience the best show in any situation.