Cody ChesnuTT @ The Zoo, 13/04/04

Turn on any top 40 music show on a Saturday morning and you will see dozens of artists pretending to be playing RnB. At the Zoo on Tuesday night, Cody ChesnuTT showed them all up to be fakes, returning RnB to rock’n’roll and proving to the crowd that the originators of rock and roll were onto the right formula 50 years ago.

I admit that I had not heard much of Cody ChesnuTT’s music before arriving at the Zoo, but the solid crowd that greeted me suggested that many had, and he had impressed the greatly. The Zoo was comfortably full, without being sold out. A great Tuesday crowd considering that ‘the family’, a venue nearby, had a sold out Planet Funk show claiming the attention of over 1000 punters.

Cody ChesnuTT and his band arrived on stage and immediately began to jam along with the last vinyl being played by the interlude disc jockey. The drummer and bassist came out to join the song, before the man of the evening, Cody ChesnuTT wandered out to join them on guitar.

Before he even started playing, Cody was spreading the love. Shaking hands with seemingly every person in the crowd who was within arms reach. By the time the band were about to start the first song, ChesnuTT already had the crowd participating, clapping to the beat of the upcoming song. After the opening song, he took the time to say a few words to the crowd, something which he did often over the course of the set.

The sound the band was pouring out with such passion and love was like a neo version of early 50s rock and roll. Remember the rock that your parents listened to (perhaps even the grandparents of some!) and they called rhythm and blues? Well, Chuck Berry couldn’t have sounded any more RnB rock than Cody Chesnutt and his band did.

The melodic tunes that Cody so beautifully and passionate sang would have done the great songwriter, Randy Newman proud. The melodies were so heartfelt and beautiful that he had the undivided attention of every single person in the room. All the girls seemed to want to be with him, while all the males wanted to be able to be like him.

The band really quickened up the pace of the evening with the very popular ‘Upstarts in a Blowout’ getting the crowd grooving and singing along. The crescendos that the band reached in this song were amazing and even the smallest of encouragement from Cody would have the crowd singing and clapping along, as one, with him.

Not only did Cody Chesnutt and his band have the rock and roll sound perfected, but also they showed great moments of control and subtlety, playing some beautiful phases of funk intermixed with some great drum solos.

Introducing the current city’s name into a song is always bound to make a touring artist popular, and Cody did just that with his rendition of ‘Brisbane’s Got Soul’. After that he again returned to a more restrained song ‘Up in the Treehouse’ which was very slow and touching. Although this was partly mocked by ‘Crackin the Skins’ Cody’s silly dance moves to the song. Looking somewhat a cross between Aerobatics Oz-Style and Gospel healer his moves caused much amusement in the crowd. By the third verse Cody could take a back seat as the Zoo crowd sung the chorus for him with great aplomb. Cody ChesnuTT then moved across to his piano, playing in a jilted, uneasy style reminiscent of someone just learning a piece on the piano. At the same time however, the disjointed was very deliberate and effective. Always showing all his emotion in his songs and even in his spoken words between songs Cody ChesnuTT is an enigma that the crowd was lapping up.

Picking up his guitar again, he launched straight back into RnB rock with ‘The Seed’. The crowd lapped up this return to rock n roll and had everyone going bananas dancing away to it. Apparently Cody ‘would name it rock n roll’ and I tend to agree with him. Shout outs to Big Boppa, Jerry Lee Lewis and Bo Diddly during the song showed where ChesnuTT’s influences lie, and listening to his set it was of no surprise.

At the end of the song, amazingly the crowd kept singing, refusing to let the song die. Singing ‘I would name it rock and roll’ over and over again. Cody, surprised by the crowds participation after the song was over took on a conducting roll, taking great delight in raising the crescendo, then moving everyone back down to a whisper. ChesnuTT would also often launch into brief acapellas of his work between songs, sometimes-even songs done previously. They would not last for more then 30 seconds, but they were common throughout his performance.

The musicianship of the band was displayed time and time again, but in ‘Michelle’, Cody’s treble guitar held the rhythm and ‘Chopper’ on the bass held the melody. The dexterity of the bassist fingers held me in awe as he played out the melody perfectly, without ever seeming hurried or missing a beat. The bop rock of ‘Eric Burdon’ rocked out, leading to a superb breakdown before slowly moving its way back to the original tune. The changes between quiet funk and roaring rock and roll were amazing, as was the crowd’s renditions of the song’s lyrics, singing them, not just for one chorus, but taking Cody’s place in them all!

After entertaining us for an hour and a quarter Cody thanked the crowd profusely for attending and he and his band members took the time to shake many many more hands before they left the stage leaving Cody behind talking to the audience. After about 10 minutes of talking to the crowd, he invited a guy up on stage, who said how his stepdad had passed away and the magic he thought was in Cody’s work. He asked Cody to play a particular song in his past step-dad ’s memory so ChesnuTT called back out the band members for one last jam. ‘Your Body is a Temple’ was played before one last acapella, beat box style to ‘Make it Rock and Roll’. The crowd loved this and joined in, extending the final song well past ten minutes as the band joined back in and in the end, the encore version of the song was received ten times better then the one earlier in the set.

Leaving the Zoo, I wished I had bought my dad along to this gig. His constant bemoaning of rock’n’roll not being what it used to be, and top 40 RnB not being REAL RnB would have been put to rest for 90 minutes at least. As Cody Chesnutt took us 50 years into the past, to reintroduce us to the style of rock the predated almost all others. Thank you Cody Chesnutt on behalf of rock music for reclaiming the RnB for Rhythm and Blues.