Bill Mallonee, Scottie McBean's, Worthington, OH
Bill Mallonee, former frontman for the Vigilantes of Love, played his six-string and harmonicas (!) and brought to a small but enthusiastic coffee house crowd his caring, passionate, witty songs of love, death, addiction, sorrow, and pain.
This was the fourth time I've seen this guy play and the first time by himself. Each show has differed as radically as Bill's own music: the first, in a warehouse in Bartlesville, OK, in 1995, was a full-on Americana ensemble with 4-5 members playing standard rockabilly and country instruments--mandolin, pedal steel, fiddle, etc. The second time I saw Bill (1997) I can't remember a thing because I was tired--But I remember I saw VOL! Positive! The third time, in 2000, at the same festival in Illinois, Bill had only a drummer and a bassist along with him, and the sound was defiantly loud rock.
So it was strange to see him alone on stage with a guitar in hand and a table full of harmonicas behind him. His solitude brought to the fore the pathos and intimacy of his songs much better than the large ensemble did. Since he had to keep re-tuning his guitar and digging around on the table for a differently tuned harmonica, he kept up a patter in between songs. He explained songs and told stories: old jobs with old Vietnam vets, barfights with suspiciously homophobic biker/cowboys, a beat-up Toyota with the good gas mileage that is soon to be airbrushed with Willie, Waylon, Johnny and Hank... He talks good.
Throughout, though, the songs have remained the same: at times painful, at times transcendent meditations and stories about hard luck and harder grace. Bill sang two tracks off the very first VOL album I bought, Blister Soul. That tape is now long gone and hasn't been replaced, but the tracks resound in my head to the songs--Skin, Blister Soul, Five Miles Outside of Monroe, Bethlehem Steel. He sang Blister Soul and Skin, a monologue in which Theo Van Gogh questioning why his famous brother had to live his life the way he did. The stories of saints and sinners, racists and innocents, workers and dreamers at times so bleak as to seem hopeless and at other times possessed with daring love. Great show!