Live at Brudenell Social Club on Monday, 1st November 2010
There is no-one quite like Micah P Hinson - no-one. A self-confessed hillbilly and failure as an English teacher, his cherubic features sit uneasily with the voice of a man seemingly on 30 a day. His former drug dependency is well documented and tonight he proudly puffs away occasionally on an electronic cigarette for his nicotine fix. "It's fucking brilliant, you can smoke it on aeroplanes," he drawls.
Tonight, promoting his fourth album, Micah P Hinson and The Pioneer Saboteurs, the Texan is feeling the strain of his second European tour of the year. Two weeks in and he barely knows which city he's in because "all the corridors of Travelodges are the fucking same".
His set starts in shambolic fashion as he leads his wife Ashley to the front of the stage, fiddles about with his pedal effects for an age and then gets on with the business of tuning a three-quarter size acoustic guitar he never really seems happy with. A bemused crowd starts to shuffle about wondering what they've got themselves into, but when he finally starts with 'Take Off That Dress For Me' it seems nothing short of a miracle that this bony, smooth-skinned American with a weather-beaten voice can produce a noise akin to the gnarled mutterings of Tom Waits. On stage his angular movements, coupled with his thick-rimmed, black specs, echoes early Elvis Costello, but without the same level of self-confidence. The swagger may be missing, but he has honesty in droves and halfway through the night he recalls his covers album 'All Dressed Up and Smelling of Strangers' which his record company made him release. "It's the only black mark against my name," he admits.
Throughout a long solo set you get the feeling you know which side this man is on. He sympathises with the common man, the losers, the heartbroken, the dreamers, the suicidal. He wants people to know that "they ain't alone in all this here mess we have" but you just can't help wondering in his present state of mind whether he's actually in a condition to help.
But all is not what it seems with Hinson. He may belt out tales of love, relationships and death with all the passion of a modern-day Woody Guthrie - a point made clear by the sticker on his guitar pronouncing the words 'This Machine Kills Fascists' - but surprisingly here stands a man staunchly anti-Obama and patriotic (he misses George Dubya) although he claims to be neither Republican or Democrat. And judging by a previous interview he does not even classify himself as white but as a member of the Chickasaw Nation - one of the five civilised Native American tribes.
It's stuff like this which adds to the mix of a complicated artist. At times he is genuinely funny, although his mind occasionally becomes jumbled as testified by his preamble to a song of child abuse committed by a Russian for a group of Italians. He doesn't quite have a grip on the story so breaks into the song only to stop halfway through because "there are too many words. You ain't getting that one."
Occasionally these bald, beautifully-crafted and passionate songs like a Dream Of Her ("the greatest fucking chord progression ever written man") and I Still Remember would have benefited from some of the string arrangements and accompaniments he uses so perfectly on record but hey, he's on the road and earning a buck.
His wife comes on for a couple of songs in the encore and she gets a loving peck when her time is up to leave the stage. For his final act he retells the story of when he was sitting in the front row at a John Denver concert as a young boy and the rage he felt listening to the people behind him singing at the top of their voices. "I ain't paid to listen to them," he snarls jokily. He finishes with Denver's This Old Guitar and as he slips off stage the self-doubt returns and he asks his wife whether the crowd had enjoyed it. No Baracking here - this pioneer is blazing a trail for the American Dream - and Leeds loved him for it.