Ed Hamell [DVD & CD]

Friday, 17 October 2008

There are ways of setting a tone for a film that paint a picture, and then there are ways of setting a tone that frame it – essentially encapsulating the entirety of the forthcoming proceedings and giving a clue as to what you’re going to see with a few words but without giving the whole thing away – thus baiting as well as exciting potential viewers into what feels like will be an event or, better still, a happening. Rant & Roll, Ed Hamell’s first and finest foray into the DVD format, begins with the following words: “Despite the fact that the tour was incredibly demoralizing, the sun helps. A beautiful sunny day – the news doesn’t help necessarily. Israel’s bombing Syria, Burma’s cut off from the rest of the world so they can commit genocide probably…. You know, the great existential questions – I mean to leave art behind so that one can feel like they’ve solidified some kind of immortality… they’re gonna blow up the fuckin’ world anyway.”

It’s a confusing, fractured sentiment to say the least, but the language is so strong, uncompromising and vivid that anyone’s eyes caught by the accompanying serene, rolling highway are captivated – words of destruction contrasted against the freedom of an open road that goes on forever – want to know what’s coming. It could be a train wreck with a wretchedly high body count or a grand epiphany around the corner – but either way, it’s going to be one hell of a sight to see.

What it turns out to be is the perfect way to set the stage for The Terrorism Of Everyday Life; the mostly spoken word but oddly musical production that Hamell debuted at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and then took out on tour. Now, anyone familiar with Hamell’s music is aware that his songs don’t have a tremendous amount in common with the material of the average (or even the unusual) one-man show; in his early years, Bob Dylan was very outspoken and very political and Bob Log III is very funny, but Ed Hamell’s music (usually performed under the moniker Hamell On Trial) is a little of both of those things and the final product is some of the finest, loudest (particularly for a one-man show) satire currently residing in the pop idiom. It’s very personal as it looks back at events and people he’s experienced, but inflated in such a way that the individuals in the songs become fantastic caricatures that one can’t help but laugh at because they don’t seem like they could possibly be true. Rant & Roll alleviates some of that disbelief by telling the stories of the people that the singer knows as well as their hijinx and the lessons learned from the experiences. This “songs and stories” delivery is, by turns, cathartic, hilarious, ragingly incisive and intelligent, biting and critical and, most importantly, remarkably engaging. You find yourself waiting on the edge of your seat to relate to Hamell’s next molten slab of the frustration he’s experienced in his fifty-four years and learn, as he has, to be angry as hell about it of course, but to wryly laugh it all off at the same time and see it all for the fantastically ludicrous presentation it is. From politics – both global and domestic – to rock n’ roll to literally the terrorism of everyday life that anyone who has spent any time on the not-so-sunny side of the street is familiar with (including crack bars, the mafia, underworld aficionados and more), Hamell takes great joy in tipping every sacred cow he ventures upon, and his ace in the hole is the fact that these stories are true and he still lived to tell them.

There have been plenty of performers that have had a hypnotizing presence on the stage but, with equal amounts of Will Rogers, George Burns, Lenny Bruce, Woody Guthrie and Joe Strummer in him, nobody – nobody – has a presence like Ed Hamell and while other musicians have attempted shows like this (Henry Rollins leaps to mind), Rant & Roll stands peerless – second to none – as a stand-up and set-yourself-on-fire, laugh-out-loud performance.


Hamell On Trial Online
Hamell On Trial myspace

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