(By Pat ‘Riot’ Whitaker, Lead Journalist/Writer, RiffRelevant.com)
Finally, an event that I’d been eager to experience for a rather lengthy time had arrived… to see a Scott Kelly acoustic performance! Scott was currently on the road playing small, intimate sets with accompaniment by John Judkins (Rwake, Laser Flames On The Great Big News).
Tonight, the duo were doing so at The Odditorium in Asheville, N.C. and there was no way I was missing this event.
Kelly is primarily known for his day job in the legendary band Neurosis, as well as his place in acts like Shrinebuilder, Mirrors For Psychic Warfare, Corrections House, Tribes Of Neurot, Blood & Time, etc. Thankfully, I was hip to the stripped down, minimalist music he creates alone, as well. The profoundly poignant content he manifests as an individual, or within the set up as Scott Kelly & The Road Home, is a soul-searing testament to his earnest talent.
Once Scott and John had set up and taken the stage, the folks in attendance stood stone quiet in anticipation. The Odditorium provides as intimate a setting as one could hope for, small and in your face, if you will. That setting was just perfect for what was about to unfold, as Scott started strumming his acoustic guitar and the intro of “The Ladder In My Blood” began.
The tune is the haunting first cut from Kelly’s second solo album, ‘The Wake‘, and it’s a striking song, to say the least. With Judkins adding slide guitar nuances and the occasional backing vocal, things were off to a harrowing start.
Keeping true to that 2008 sophomore outing’s tracklist, the duo then engaged in “Figures“. Definitely a more melancholy number, it simmered in my skull, thanks to Scott’s raspy, baritone-inflected vocals. This was all while seemingly simple music emanated from the acoustic guitar and John’s own banjo-based contribution.
As for the people in attendance, the significance of our collective, communal-like experience was evident. Complete silence hung like a haze during these songs. No one dared utter a word as we stood transfixed, only applauding as each came to an end. Neither Scott nor John would speak much, merely the occasional “You all are too kind… thank you” from Kelly between tracks. One of those came prior to the pair playing one of my favorite compositions, “The Forgiven Ghost In Me“, title track of Scott Kelly & The Road Home‘s 2012 release.
There would be a fantastic sonic representation of the varying periods of output from Kelly’s solo legacy, as songs “The Wash Of The Sea” and “Endless” from 2016’s ‘Push Me On To The Sun‘ EP were played. There were returns to the 2012 album mentioned previously, as well, with “The Sun Is Dreaming In The Soul” and “We Let The Hell Come“. The latter was delivered with sections of undiluted aggression channeled, via electrified instrumentation and performer angst.
No song settled better or worse than any other, as each seemed to sink hooks or barbs into your spiritual core. It was as if emotion begat emotion, the duo’s heartfelt song interpretations wrenched emotion from you, by the sheer state of their being.
Speaking of interpretations, in this case reinterpretations, Scott and John also delivered two amazing covers in their set. Perfect selections, as “Cortez The Killer” – from one of music history’s most revered artists, Neil Young – was ideal. John’s enhancing of the song with electric guitar offset Scott’s acoustic and provided a definite highlight of the set.
The second song originated from an artist that was a near surety to be visited from Scott at some point this night. That was, of course, Townes Van Zandt and his phenomenal tune “Tecumsah Valley“. It was clearly a highlight this evening, as folks chimed in and sung along at different points. The cut hails from the 2012 three-way compilation tribute, ‘Songs Of Townes Van Zandt’ from Kelly, his Neurosis band mate Steve Von Till, and Scott ‘Wino’ Weinrich.
Speaking solely for myself, I felt as I’d had the equivalent of a religious experience in finally seeing a Scott Kelly acoustic performance. A crucial one at that, as the sonic sermon delivered by the duo of Scott and John Judkins was a transformative one at times.
You can be told about them, or have one described to you by a master of oration, but it will pale in comparison to the actual encounter. I have done what I can here to best lay out what I experienced with my own such undertaking, but you must witness it firsthand to fully comprehend.