by Alexandra Hall
The bathrooms don’t overflow anymore. There are gold mirrors hanging on each wall to mimic largeness in a forever tiny space, reflecting a few different versions of yourself as you wash your hands. Usually, venue bathrooms are where you meet new friends while bonding over the impossibly long line and excitement for the night’s show. But last night, the venue was mostly empty.
The James Hunter Six has been in my rotation for years now since I came upon Whatever It Takes in 2018. Like a lot of people, I thought it was an album from the ‘60s. Analog charm, bass that sounds like a pepper grinder, a voice whose facial contortions you can see just by listening. The cover features Hunter taking a drag from a cigarette in a yellow-lit cove and the font of the title looks like it’s from Gilligan’s Island. The record reeks with chicness. And although it sounds like a sonic treasure trove from decades ago, it remains fresh.
After hounding the editor at my newspaper internship, I landed an interview with Hunter in order to help promote the show on Friday. I did my research, but was relying on my fan-status to fuel the conversation. Then about an hour before our call, I read an article saying that Hunter was a tough interview. Panicked, I then drafted pages of questions trying to find the sweet spot between nonchalance and care.
We ended up just talking about venue atmospheres and movies. He likes horror movies (Get Out, Hereditary) and tried to get me to watch one about a ventriloquist dummy even after I told him that it was my worst fear. I repeatedly warned him about the venue’s sticky floors.
It would not have made a difference if 300 people showed up versus the 30 who were there. Hunter was in his own universe on stage, a world only shared with his bandmates and wife, Jessie, who leaned on the front corner of the stage. From the band to the pit, every single person looked so happy to be there, especially the drunk girl who kept falling onto the pit floor directly in front of him.
The chemistry of each musician both with each other and their instrument hung in the air like the musk of the humid hall. Although Hunter was calling the shots, each player was foundational to the set. Drummer Jonathan Lee paced everyone with a grace and steadiness that made his work seem effortless. Keyboardist Andrew Kingslow never made any weird faces when hammering away at the keys, and bassist Jason Wilson seemed to be the back row conductor. They worked together seamlessly, putting on a show in which the tracks flowed together without stepping on each others’ toes.
The group didn’t play any of their “top hits.” The setlist was a mix of deep cuts and covers, topping the night off with an encore of Ray Charles’ “What I’d Say.” I realized during that last song that most of the music I listen to will never be able to be heard live. I’ll never hear some of my favorite artists, and there is such beauty to be found in covers when they’re done so well like Hunter’s. They breathe new life into beloved tracks that have become canonized by their recorded versions.
Hunter’s exuberance highlighted the necessity and value of shows where performers actually want to perform, where putting on a show is an art rather than a quota to fulfill, where you don’t have to sell your first born in order to get tickets on time or get a full body cavity search just to get into the building.
The James Hunter Six is the epitome of quality. Sound rich with soul, lyrics sweet enough to give you a toothache, and a passion that carries from the turntable to the stage, they’re a group more people should have the honor of having in their library.
Until next time,