Hamell on Trial
Review of their gig in Whelan's, Dublin, November 9th 2001
I knew nothing and had read nothing of the Hamell on Trial before going to this gig, so it was in a state of complete ignorance that I approached Whelan's last week. Indeed, shortly after arrival I managed to embarrass those I was with by chatting loudly in expectation about "the band" that was about to come on stage. Soon enough I found out that the aforementioned band was in fact one man and his guitar. And a mad, mad, crazy coot he turned out to be.
However Ed Hamell's brand of madness did not involve handmade puppets or satanic rituals of audience humiliation that I'd seen from other "mad" performers. Instead Hamell on Trial proved to be plain mad because he tells jokes, performs with a vigour that your Granny would kill for and belts out songs with an enthusiasm that shows he cares whether the audience enjoys themselves or not, something that should be said of every performer. From the start of his set to the end he was entertainment embodied, pure perfected performance.
What can one accuse Hamell on trial of being? Comedian, musician, entertainer or personality? All of these your Honour and he'll be going down guilty on all counts. A one-man rock n' roll show, the stage rarely seemed empty, never suffering from the phantom band syndrome, such was the presence of his performance.
Ed Hamell sings of characters and stories straight out of their pages and the reality of his past. "Judy", "The lottery", "Bill Hicks", songs of ex-cons and chancers who drifted in and out of the reality or surreality of his time working in a crack bar in upstate New York. But these are people he doesn't condemn, he sings of them telling it how it is. Listening and watching we were secondary witnesses after the fact of the flipside to the comfort zone that is our reality. And then before launching into another song he'd invariably treat us to anecdotes and jokes (one so bad that it gave reason for one female member of the audience to pass him Vaseline). Another he deemed too extreme for a public hearing so he went off-mike to tell it to us as we hung over the rails on his every word.
From the evidence of tonight Dublin is somewhere he obviously loves performing and he himself left the stage wanting more. I for one will be here when he returns which should be a definite due to his popularity with the audience tonight. And I will know more and expect more since the last time we met.
Hammel On Trial's latest album is a live recording of his tour with Ani DiFranco titled "Ed's not dead - Hamell comes alive". Released on Ed Hamell's own 'Such-a-punch' label.