There are people I know who cannot stand Neil Young. It confounds me. Especially because they have discerning taste in literature, art and music (for the most part) that I respect and admire. Yet Neil Young often not only leaves them cold, he turns them off. Some things in life you just have to learn to accept.
I love Neil Young. I memorised the words to Thrasher and sang it as a lullaby to my children. So Hatchetman’s near-perfectly executed cover of ‘Old Man’ was a highlight of their show in the ingeniously altered concert hall in the City Hall which is the Cape Town Fringe hub for the next ten days.
Unfortunately, for a band which played mostly original songs – they did only one other cover during their hour-long show, and it was a Crosby, Stills and Nash number – it was the highlight.
Before bearded frontman Jono Tait announced the tribute to that grungy folkster, which was about three or four songs in to their set, I had already likened his voice to Young’s high ranged country blues quaver, and the band unapologetically reproduce the three-part guitar-based harmony for which Crosby, Stills and Nash basically, according to Tait, “wrote the rule book”.
With drummer Ryk Otto and singer Alex Muller as newcomers to the lineup (one of the Catto brothers, I think it was Matt, was not in this gig), Hatchetman seem to want to continue where Crosby, Stills and Nash left off. But a lot has happened in the intervening 40 years since their heyday when they were pushing boundaries with their brand of folk rock.
Look, of course there’s nothing wrong with playing folk, or folk rock, they are musical genres that are timeless, but if Hatchetman were gigging in the ’70s, they would have been dismissed as a CSN knock-off. They’re still a CSN knock-off. The hipsterish hauling out of nuggets of the past doesn’t change that. I mean, if you love folk rock then play it by all means, but don’t seem to try so hard to sound like the band you yourself admit to growing up listening to. Look how Young moved from the lyricism and golden sunset sounds of Harvest in ’72 to the grinding, bone-jarring subterranean reverb employed in ’79s’ Rust Never Sleeps and again in ’90s’ Ragged Glory, and often mixed them up on the same album.
Ok, ok, Hatchetman are new and have a long way to go. I know. And they’re very good at the three-part harmony thing. Very good. They really are. There is no doubt they are accomplished musicians.
I’ll be interested to see where they go, whether they can take this form and fuck with it, or whether they’ll remain in the shadow of their heroes.
They’re playing at the Cape Town Fringe until Saturday 27 September. Book here.
— Steve Kretzmann