An exuberant energy permeated the crowd at Mercury Lounge Friday night as the audience waited for Cody ChesnuTT to take the stage. The Brooklyn-based indie group, Ava Luna, had warmed everybody up with their infectious blend of soulful vocals (both male and female) with New Wave-influenced arrangements. At times, their songs swelled with a punk-like urgency; at others, they found the space to breathe and really drink in the moment. If all indie bands were as interested in rhythm and soul as Ava Luna, the genre would be much less insufferable. At the end of their set, frontman Carlos Hernandez thanked the audience and mentioned that he was “so psyched to see Cody ChesnuTT.” He was hardly alone in this sentiment.
The soldout crowd packed themselves into the small concert space, able to accommodate no more than 197 persons (or so the maximum capacity sign on the club’s wall says, though it certainly felt like more people had squeezed themselves in by the end of the night). Just as the mood began to turn restless as the break between sets inched past the forty minute mark, ChesnuTT appeared on the stage clad in a red cardigan over a T-shirt and sporting an army helmet, looking exactly like the publicity photos he took in promotion of his new album, Landing on a Hundred. The crowd erupted as he immediately launched into the first track from that album, “Til I Met Thee.” ChesnuTT and the four-piece group backing him had the energy level turned to 11 and refused to let up as they blasted through several other songs from the new record and one track that failed to make the cut, “Single Way,” which ChesnuTT wrote for his niece to encourage her to always sing with a full heart.
Many artists who have been around as long as ChesnuTT might not know what to do with the intimacy afforded by playing such a small venue, but he used that closeness to his advantage by turning each song into an event, with buildups and breakdowns and crowd sing alongs. He also neglected to play anything other than new material, a ballsy move that could have backfired if the crowd had shown up simply hoping to hear him run through “The Seed” or “Look Good in Leather” or anything else from The Headphone Masterpiece, his now decade-old double album recorded on a 4-track machine in his bedroom. But he treated the crowd with respect and good humor and the audience reciprocated. At one point, in the middle of “What Kind of Cool (Will We Think of Next),” somebody shouted, “You’re awesome!,” to which he quickly shot back a million dollar grin and said, “Thank you,” before delivering the next lyric.
After a spirited version of “Where is all the Money Going”–although, really, every song he played could be described as spirited–ChesnuTT said that his time was up and he had to go, deflating the crowd like a popped balloon. After a few moments of clamoring for one more song, the crowd got what it wanted in the form of an extra inspired version of “Under the Spell of the Handout.” At the end of the night, everybody who bought a ticket got more than they paid for as ChesnuTT and his bandmates left everything up on the stage, delivering a funky brand of ‘70s style soul and R&B that they honed so well on the record. Before one of the songs, ChesnuTT had said that it’s all about having an exchange and keeping your heart open in spirit and he held true to his side of that bargain, giving as much as the crowd was willing to receive. They heard his message and sent some of that love and those good vibes back his way.