Alex Chilton, Electricity by Candlelight (NYC 2/13/97) (Bar None)

Alex Chilton, Electricity by Candlelight, album cover

Recorded on a portable cassette machine (and sounding that way), this oft-bootlegged tape catches an impromptu acoustic set that Alex Chilton played after power went out at New York’s Knitting Factory during a regular show. It turns pretty quickly into a campfire sing-along, with Chilton dodging Big Star requests and pulling favorite tunes from all over the map. The audience sounds like it can’t believe its luck: When he asks for someone to whistle a solo on the Johnny Cash tune “Step Right This Way,” it sounds like every one of the hundred-odd fans volunteers.

The set list is only slightly more freewheeling than his regular sets: At the time, he was likely to play virtually anything but his own classics, and Big Star diehards tend to overlook how rewarding those shows could be (and how fine a guitarist he’d become). Here, he honors a couple of the goofier requests (Tammy Wynette’s “D-I-V-O-R-C-E”); follows two Beach Boys hits with a great Brian Wilson obscurity (“Solar System”); dishes out music trivia (After “I Walk the Line”: “That song changes keys six times!”); croons convincingly on “Someone To Watch Over Me”; and closes out with “If I Had a Hammer”—the Trini Lopez version, no less. (Big Star gets sort-of represented by Loudon Wainwright III’s “Motel Blues,” which they used to cover live). It’s a side of Chilton you didn’t often get to see—just your friendly neighborhood music guru.