GIG REVIEW – Hip Hatchet at Green Note, London 10/01/14

The room inside is warm and welcoming, a velvet curtain partition between the front end of the self-styled café-bar and the back room, which already my girlfriend is moving effortlessly towards, greeting friends and acquaintances.

Outside, Camden is cold with the approaching lateness of the hour and the darkness of the winter season—weather we were expecting earlier, now arriving later.

In the intermission, we smoke cigarettes, and discuss the price of rent in Angel with a smiling tattooist who hands Jess her card. Before that, however, is the set; one man in a plaid, flannel shirt, his soft voice carrying in the fairy-light glow of Green Note’s back room.

Hailing from Portland, Oregon— (a city where young people go to retire)— Philippe Bronchtein, more commonly known as Hip Hatchet, is one man with an acoustic guitar and two records already under his belt.

His voice is haunting, his music soft and lilting, infused with the kind of sad ombre we may recall often but struggle to stifle in our happiest moments. This is the music of vast, open spaces, of wild fields and lonely forests at twilight; this is the sound of an America far from the ugly images of congestion and demand we have all become far too familiar with.

On the small stage by that velvet curtain, Hip Hatchet is softly spoken and amusing in his delivery of his anecdotes, a man comfortable enough with his presence on stage to invite questions from the audience as he tunes his guitar. The environment of Green Note compliments this approach perfectly.

We drink, and the room fills with the warmth of the performance, folk music tinged with blues, a cover of bluegrass standard, Ain’t No Ash Will Burn by way of Jill Andrews and Josh Oliver.

Coward’s Luck, from the EP of the same name, follows, a song that haunts more than is comfortable, and idly I find myself wondering about our comparative ages, about paths taken and the different experiences we give voice to.

They say that music is apparently at its most effective when it resonates with your own experience, your own feelings; it is a language of empathy in a culture increasingly struggling with its own social conscience.

The final song is introduced as “my happiest song, even though it sounds fuckin’ miserable,” and as true as that might be, there is the same haunting wonder, a smile of recognition, as beneath the glow of the lights and through the atmosphere of the quiet café, he sings, “Headin’ for home is a special kind of Hell.”

We smoke further cigarettes, and buy food from the vegan friendly selection at the bar.

Camden is cold with the approaching lateness of the hour and the darkness of the winter season.

In a small room, a man sings softly of faraway places in a soft voice.

The streetlights outside continue to glow long after all sound fades.


Jacob Milnestein 

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