In a way, this kind of chaos — a darkened stage at the Knitting Factory — was the perfect setting for Alex Chilton, a performer who had made his legend drawing outside the lines.
Electricity by Candlelight documents a free-form evening of often never-before-heard songs, played for the remaining customers after a power failure. The band on this February 13, 1997, evening included Ron Easley and Richard Dworkin, who eventually added a stray cadence on the snare as Chilton got going. He stirred in songs, seemingly, as they came to him: the Beach Boys’ “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” the Chet Baker favorite “Let’s Get Lost,” London Wainwright III, Joni Mitchell, George Gershwin, Johnny Cash, Pete Seeger. Easley snapped a few pictures for posterity.
The album, due October 8, 2013, from Bar None Records, isn’t a place to achieve a career vista for those unfamiliar with the late Chilton. There’s nothing here to suggest the flinty R&B power of his days in the Boxtops, or his post punk-defining work with Big Star, either. Instead, Electricity by Candlelight plumbs more deeply into the playful eccentricity that kept Chilton from ever settling into any particular persona for long.
There’s a subtlety that recalls Cliches, his lovely acoustic 1994 set for Argent, but also the unfettered, almost reckless muse that created the often out-of-the-control Bach’s Bottom in 1975. Perhaps only the ever-restless, profoundly talented Chilton could, with real credibility, draw from George Gershwin, the Tammy Wynette songbook, and “The Girl from Ipanema,” too.
The set is rounded out by a bonus version of Johnny Lee’s 1981 country hit “Bet Your Heart on Me.”