You wouldn’t believe it if I told you. That in little ol’ Somerville, MA, early in the hours of a Friday night, I witnessed a musical phenomenon. He performed as if possessed; transfixed, eyes rolling back in his head. When he opened his mouth a melodic voice boomed with all the force and natural beauty of the first clap of thunder in the sky.
What if I told you that I saw a man do things to an acoustic guitar with nylon strings that were almost indecent and if I hadn’t seen with my own two eyes, would dare to call illusionary. He spanked it for crying out loud.
You wouldn’t believe that in fact, the fabled, sweaty-toothed madman of “Dead Poets Society” exists. But he does. I saw him along with 100 other people play for two hours and his name is Christopher Paul Stelling.
His fingers, long and adept, ferociously picked his guitar with the command of the pied piper, flowing seemingly effortlessly from one song to the next, while the room, awestruck, took in parables painted with poignant imagery of death in “Too Far North,” and growing pains in “Revenge.”
The audience witnessed a display of fortuitous mastery during a new song as he plucked the guitar at rapid speed, at one point taking his left hand off the fret board to put it to his mouth as he thought about what to sing next. Stelling has written a lot of his new material on the road, having toured for almost an entire year straight, since his album Labor Against Waste was released on ANTI-. He told the crowd that he has crossed the ocean six times and the country three and offered some perspective of some of the people he met and situations he bore witness to. One thing that particularly struck him was meeting Syrian Refugees and he dedicated his song “Scarecrow” to them. Known for his powerful imagery in his songs, this was particularly moving given the opening refrain “We were lost, and set adrift, on a red clay unmarked road, with nothing ‘cept what we could hold.”
Local talent Matt Murphy (stand up bass) and Kieran Ledwidge (fiddle) played the part of co-conspirators really, as the three clearly enjoyed many private jokes and an intrinsic relationship, often smiling and passing scheming looks before breaking out into songs with such a fervor it felt like it was bringing down a biblical wrath on the Thunder Road Rock Club. Ironically, this was most evident on “Brick X Brick,” in which Stelling sang “brick by brick, I will tear this city down.” Stelling, who is witty and self-aware, joked after that “they better slow down, doctor’s orders”
Photos by Rich Gastwirt.