Big Star In A Tent
First published July 2009
This years Serpentine Sessions has been an innovative and successful attempt to provide something new to London’s gig-goers. Inside a pink tent in the middle of Hyde Park around 2000 people have seen on successive nights Regina Spektor, Bon Iver and now Tindersticks supported by Big Star.
A glorious warm evening and a stroll through the park provides the perfect pre-amble to a compact but satisfying set from Big Star. With only 55 minutes onstage they are forced to play to their strengths with the result that the set-pacing problems exhibited at the Shepherds Bush gig last August are absent tonight. From the traditional opener “In the Street” to the equally traditional closer “Thank You Friends” a great vibe emanated from the stage, with even the normally taciturn Alex Chilton grinning throughout – he must have been thinking about the size of his fee for tonight’s one-off performance. The sound tonight is crisp and well-balanced – everything audible and at sensible volume. Drummer Jody Stephens gets his chance to sing on “Way Out West” and “For You”, Posies Jon and Ken sing a reverent “I Am the Cosmos” to Chris Bell’s brother David, present in the crowd tonight. Also present are a relatively large number of young women – usually Big Star audiences are composed of indie fanboys muttering “seminal, seminal” so it makes a nice change to see ordinary music-lovers at a gig. Covers tonight are restricted to an authentically raunchy “Til The End Of the Day” plus “Patti Girl” and “Mine Exclusively”, where none of the band can remember who cut the original.
The band leave to warm applause and could definitely have played an encore. Instead Nick West and I talk to John Fry, a crucial figure in the Big Star story and here in London to do “tourist stuff”. John is very positive about the Big Star box-set due in September (contents here www.uncut.co.uk/news/big_star/news/13149) and admits he has even mixed some of the previously-unreleased tracks. John confirms it is also planned to issue a 2CD expanded version of the I Am The Cosmos to tie in with the release of the box set.
The ever-amenable Jody comes over to say hello to Kent Benjamin (on his hols from Austin, Texas) but then heads off for an early night since he has to be up at 430 for the plane back to Memphis. Jon and Ken are nowhere to be seen but lo and behold Alex is hanging out in the outdoor bar, Diet Coke and smokes in a holder.
So we sit down for a chat and Alex belies his reputation by being excellent company. He says he only heard about the box set 2 weeks ago so it has been assembled without any input from him. He is really pissed off with Bruce Eton’s new book on Radio City ( www.bigstarbook.blogspot.com ) and claims that Bruce included personal stuff that they had agreed was off-limits. Alex has no plans to write or record new material, feeling with the record industry in the state it ‘s in at present there’s not much point, plus he only really writes songs when has a deadline. A discussion on royalties revealed that Alex does now get money from sales of the three Big Star records, but that this is dwarfed by royalties earnt by the use of ”In The Street” as the theme for That Seventies Show in the US. Alex confessed that what he is really into at present is baroque and that he would like to do some composing, possibly for a film soundtrack.
He’s dry, he’s wry, he’s urbane – the Jimmy Stewart of Rock’n’Roll. But Alex Chilton, he’s still a mover.