By Carter G. Shelter
A Chadwick Stokes show is unlike almost any other concert you’ve been too. Between his solo work and his work in the bands Dispatch and State Radio, Stokes has never had anything that resembles a “hit song,” but for the small army of devoted fans gathered at Bowery Ballroom on Dec. 5, every song was a hit.
Stokes kicked off the show with “Pine Needle Tea,” a new song that will be on his upcoming album “The Horse Comanche.” Opening with an unreleased song is normally a little risky, but for this crowd it proved no object: at least 50% of them knew all the words.
This knowledge of his new material was on display throughout the night, as a total of six songs of his 16-song set were from the new album. Following up “Pine Needle Tea,” Stokes and his band broke out into the State Radio song “Right Me Up,” probably the song that the few casual fans knew best.
The show began to really hit its groove with another State Radio tune, “Camilo,” which gave his backing band, The Pintos, their first chance to really shine, taking the normally rocking riff at the end of the song and slowing it down into a deliciously funky jam.
Stokes kept most of the show upbeat, mixing folky songs like “Coffee and Wine,” “I Love You Like a Seatbelt,” and the reggae-tinged “Calling All Crows,” with slightly more rocking numbers like “Mr. Larkin” and “Our Lives Our Time.” The latter tune, the first single from the upcoming album, was another clear highlight. The band accented the lyrics’ political bent with the perfect amount of aggression, and during the song’s third verse their instrumental breakdown contrasted strikingly with Stokes’ steady fingerpicking and rapid-fire rapping.
The song was followed by Stokes bringing his Dispatch band mate Pete Francis onstage for “Bang Bang,” noting how the pair used to play the song in Washington Square Park and that they used to perform together at The Bitter End.
For his encore, Stokes brought a little reggae flavor to the State Radio favorite “Indian Moon” before playing a brand new tune called “Cease Fire,” inspired by the recent grand jury cases in Ferguson and Staten Island. The often-political Stokes remarked that it is up to us to create change and that we need to both “learn how to love” and “hold other people responsible for their actions.”
To close the night, Stokes and his band launched into “Elias,” one of Dispatch’s signature songs, and probably the biggest sing-along and dance-along of the night. The smiles on the faces of every person in the crowd as they dutifully sang every word at the top of their lungs and on the faces of the band as they closed out this tour with a bang were evidence of the power of Stokes’ music.
His songs are fun, but they also connect with people in a very deep way. While his army of fans may not put him in stadiums, they are some of the most loyal soldiers a musician could have.
Carter G. Shelter is a contributing writer. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org