Hayden – Mercury Lounge – February 13, 2013
Toward the end of last night’s set at Mercury Lounge, Hayden mentioned that while the audience was great, he’d been “expecting a bunch of assholes.” It was a great line, one of many bits of banter that perfectly punctuated the show and complemented the music—witty, brief and honest. Indeed, the room was as crowded as I’d ever seen it: fans crammed into every available nook the Merc offers. And yet they were quiet and attentive and as appreciative of a musician who’s been in the business for decades could have hoped.
With yellow neon lights behind them declaring “Us Alone,” the title of his brand new album, Hayden and his two bandmates chugged through 80 minutes of material, new and “classic.” On the eve of Valentine’s Day, many of the songs seemed to hinge on relationships in disrepair, like “Worthy of Your Esteem” and “Just Give Me a Name.” The three rotated among instruments—bass, guitars (acoustic and electric), drums, keys and harmonica—bringing a variety of sounds to the set: nice rock riffs, occasional country bounce, acoustic folk. The best moments washed in a bubble-bath bass that seemed to elevate the superlative songwriting to a special place.
The set was anchored by some great anecdotes. Hayden introduced “The Hazards of Sitting Beneath Palm Trees” with a story about smoking too many cigarettes on an all-inclusive vacation and another had some black humor about “online content.” The audience hung on every word, spoken and sung, showing admirable constraint and listening without singing along. But the end of the set proved the strongest with “Don’t Get Down” (“My only hopeful song … but it’s over-the-top hopeful”), featuring all three guys acoustic around a single, probably unnecessary, microphone and a dedication to their drive with a surprising build-up rock-out in the middle. After an extended tuning session that found the crowd as patient and attentive as ever, Hayden encored with “Bad as They Seem,” sounding like very classic Neil Young, certainly not hopeful but definitely not alone. —A. Stein