by Robert Denver
On Oct 17 of last year, indie rock singer Chapell performed to a jam-packed house at The Slipper Room in NYC’s Lower East side. If you are looking to discover new music with an old soul and a NYC edge, don’t miss Chapell when he plays again January 19.
I hadn’t been to the Slipper Room since it was renovated nearly five years ago. You would think you were stepping into a place buried deep within Brooklyn and back in another era. Well done, lads. Well done.
Although this was the first time I’d seen Chapell play live, I discovered his recent album The Redhead’s Allegations this past summer. See, I’m a huge fan of Talking Heads (who isn’t). But I might be even a bigger fan of Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers. So when I’d heard that Jerry Harrison (a founding member of both bands) had produced Chapell’s debut album, I was pretty eager to check it out. And Jerry Harrison certainly put his stamp on the album – there are parts of The Redhead’s Allegations that reminded me of the Bogmen, Live, the Black and White Years and other Harrison produced albums of the past.
Chapell took the stage like a preacher behind a pulpit - his seven-piece band fit snugly onto the venue’s relatively small stage. I must say, the band was really tight. And even more importantly, they were all clearly having a blast up there. Lots of joking around in between songs. But more on that later.
Chapell’s band are clearly pro’s, but they sounded like they’ve been playing together for a while. Everyone has a role, and a moment or two to shine. Case in point - I’m not always a fan of horn sections, as they tend to get overused and saturate the set. But Chapell’s trumpet player struck a nice balance. He was featured in a few places (loved the solo in one of the tunes), but spent much of his time delivering well thought out supporting parts. They piano player was energetic and had some nice chops (although I wish I could hear her better on a few songs.)
I spent the first few minutes looking at the violin player and trying to remember where I’d seen her before. It took me a few minutes, but I soon realized it was Lorenza Ponce, whom I’d previously seen playing with Jon Bon Jovi. She had a solo towards the end of the set that damn near broke the room. The bass and drums were both energetic and tight. And they moved seamlessly across multiple genres. I thought the guitar player was good, perhaps very good. Until she brought out the mandolin for a few acoustic tunes – at that point she crossed over to pretty great. And her solo in the encore brought the house down.
Frankly, I was surprised by how different Chapell sounds live. His album is unabashed indie-pop, but the live show mixes styles frequently and occasionally veers into an Americana sound a la Jeff Tweedy. And for some reason, I only counted a few songs off of The Redhead’s Allegations on Chapell’s set list that night. I was told that Chapell is already starting to work on his follow-up album. He must be eager to be playing something fresh after spending several years recording The Redhead’s Allegations. Some of these new songs (e.g., Queen of the Summer Night) reminded me of Spottiswoode and his Enemies, while others (Stay Tonight, She’s on Fire) had a disco vibe. And as diehard Jonathan Richman fan, I was pleased to hear them completely reinvent the Modern Lover’s classic “My Baby Loves Loves Loves Me”.
One thing I found particularly interesting was the energy in between songs. Chapell owns the stage, and the rest of the band is completely at home joining in on the banter. An accomplished storyteller, Chapell shared a few short missives with the audience with various band members providing occasional color commentary. Now, this approach might not work in every venue, but in a Vaudeville tinged room like the Slipper Room it came off as extremely fun and entertaining. I don’t want to spoil it by telling you here, but next time you go see Chapell live, ask him to recount the time he, err… accidentally played a show to 300 people in his underwear.
Overall, Chapell was able to deliver at The Slipper Room. The intimate show was well-received, and Chapell’s fans were extremely enthusiastic - even where they didn’t necessarily know the words to the new songs. His songs are both catchy and thoughtful, and his musicians are as good as you’ll see in NYC. Chapell is worth seeing live whenever he’s in the area - two thumbs up! For more information on Chapell, please visit www.ThisIsChapell.com.