“When the legend becomes fact, print the legend”. Though attributed to the John Ford vehicle “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance”, it is equally relevant in describing Alex Chilton’s career. Long a legend among music aficionados, Chilton’s ability to imbue his songs and the songs of others with an equal mixture of gravitas and joy is almost supernatural. On February 13th, 1997, during a residency at New York’s legendary Knitting Factory, the power blew right before Chilton’s second set. A temperamental figure on the best of days, the crowd would have been validated in its concern that the show would be scuttled, but Memphis legend surprised the crown with an acoustic set of sprightly covers and originals, accompanied by only his guitar and the occasional percussion.
Taped by a fan and recently released by Bar/None Records, “Electricity By Candlelight” is a joyous snapshot of Chilton at his most relaxed and amiable. Country covers sit comfortably next to tunes by the Beach Boys and you can practically hear the smile on Chilton’s face as he tears into “Wouldn’t It Be Nice”. The crowd hangs on every word and what the audience-sourced recording lacks in fidelity it more than makes up for in intimacy and charm. Chilton had recently started a resurgence in activity after some years in the wild, and this recording serves as a nice reminder that when he was on, the man was ON! Sets like this one show exactly what songwriters like Paul Westerberg saw in Alex Chilton, and though it may be by the hundreds and not millions, the crowd at the Knitting Factory that night before Valentine’s Day got a love-letter like no other from a living legend.