Oh sure, Ed Hamell plays a mean guitar when he sings, rants, screams, howls, rambles and digresses, but he's no minstrel, no troubadour, no post-punk acoustic rock-n-roll sage.
He defies all that; he expands and extends the categories. At the Snow Goose Theater last Wednesday, he didn't put on a show, he put the human race on trial. He joked, cajoled and rampaged through two sets of spoken word assaults, social commentaries, personal stories and hardcore acoustic punk/rock/anti-song songs that spoke of friendship and love, politics and faith, and the perennial question, "guilty or innocent?"
Oh sure, he probably offended someone even when singing to the choir—maybe he came off as too vulgar or crass or one-sided--but the bald, devilish New Yorker with the Billie-goat laugh performs like a whirling comic dervish with a twisted wit and heart of sap who refuses to buy-in to the "ascetic" line, who doesn't flinch, who falls out of decency and into truth, and whose truth envelops contradiction, rage, hope, irony, absurdity, and over-the-top immaturity.
Hey, if the album name, "Songs for Parents who enjoy Drugs" doesn't say enough, then how about this? He sang about his kid, his best friend, your kid, an all American fast food joint called "The Trough," and his hope/threat/demand that his mother get through the pearly gates.
He sang both about his favorite female body part and the stench of Ann Coulter's; he crooned about God asking his flock what they don't understand about "Thou Shall Not Kill" and then about that same Almighty seeking an assassin for Pat Robertson.
No, Hamell is not for the weak of heart or humor or mind, or those who shun profanity, or anyone who takes umbrage to verbal attacks on republicans. Comedians like Lenny Bruce and Bill Hicks influence his work as much as The Clash and Johnny Cash, after all.
Yet the Goose crowd laughed, drank beer, gasped now and again and reveled at the insights of this father with an axe to grind, story to tell, guitar to play. Yes, Hamell put on a heck of a trial, loaded with complexity, pathos, anger, unsavory details, righteousness, and truths beyond the facts.
It's hard to say who heard the verdict through the din, but Hamell seems to accept his fate. Guilty or innocent? Why yes. Always.