Speakers' Corner

The rapid-fire litany of Hamell on Trial

By Rev. Adam McKinney on August 27, 2015

I've spoken before about the archetype in music known as the manic preacher. These are the wild people who command an audience with an avalanche of words and wide-eyed ideas. Captain Beefheart, Frank Zappa, Jim Carroll, Isaac Brock, Patrick Stickles - these are people linked not quite by ideology or even necessarily sound, but by feel. They speak big truths (or big lies, spoken forcefully), and on record and onstage, they feel at once street-level and bigger than life. These are people who, in another life, would be screaming their missives at Speakers' Corner in London, where all big ideas are welcome.

Another artist who would be welcome in this company of rabble-rousers is Ed Hamell, who goes by Hamell on Trial. Hamell is one of those quintessential DIY renaissance men who writes poetry, plays music, paints and writes literature, all from a place of irreverence and with a keen eye toward the darkly funny. As a musician, he comes armed with an acoustic guitar that he plays like he's in a high-speed chase and the only way to lose his pursuers is to strum the guitar as fast as humanly possible. Accompanying his breakneck torrent of notes is an equally frantic barrage of lyrics. A litany. A machine gun spray of words.

After touring as the opener for Ani DiFranco for quite some time, Hamell was in a terrible car accident that left him incapable of playing music for months. DiFranco's people, in a greatly magnanimous gesture, handed Hamell the live recordings of him opening for her, so that he could release a live album on his own to help pay for his time away from music. The resulting album, Ed's Not Dead, Hamell Comes Alive, is an amazing testament to his power as a performer. Playing for giant audiences of people who likely weren't super familiar with him, Hamell on Trial keeps them in the palm of his hands.

In his rapid-fire performing style, he waffles between the sincere and the darkly funny - and sometimes, he's both at once. Consider "I Hate Your Kid," which explores the very real romantic pitfall of dating a woman whose offspring you absolutely can't stand. Yes, when he repeatedly says how he plans to murder the teenager, it's played for laughs, but the sentiment is clear: f@#*% that kid. Earlier, on "7 Seas," he buys an old guitar with the only $10 he has, promising to repay the rest of the $200 when his ship comes in. After an eternity of waiting, his wife pays off the rest of the debt for him for his birthday. And still, no ship. It's a tender and somewhat absurdist look at life as a working musician.

Mostly he speak-sings in a staccato style similar to that of Jim Carroll, whose "People Who Died" inspired a whole generation of manic preachers. Sometimes, though, as on the unexpectedly lovely "I'm Gonna Watch You Sleep," Hamell elongates his vowels and turns in the kind of reluctant punk ballad reminiscent of Chris Knox's classic "Not Given Lightly." He touches on very relatable thoughts and observations that come in relationships, ending with the absolutely lovely lines, "You don't like it when I watch you when you put your clothes on. I kiss your forehead. I hope that only good stuff goes on in your dreams."

Joining Hamell on Trial this Sunday will be Kimya Dawson, another original voice who is prone to packing her songs with as many thoughts as possible. For idiosyncratic artists of the folk-punk variety, Sunday is a show you'd regret missing. Come hear the rambling gospel.

Obsidian, All Ages, w/ Kimya Dawson, Erica Freas, Aug. 30, 7 p.m., Sunday, 414 4th Ave. E., Olympia, $10, 360.890.4425