TVD Live: Hamell on Trial at Gypsy Sally’s Vinyl Lounge, 10/18

Tucked away at the end of K Street in Washington, DC’s Georgetown, snuggled next to the Key Bridge, is Gypsy Sally’s. On a Friday night, a sizable, but still intimate, crowd gathered to celebrate a birthday and welcome Ed Hamell, performing as Hamell on Trial, to the upstairs Vinyl Lounge.

It’s difficult for me, as a first time observer, to provide a complete illustration of the web Hamell weaves at his show. I did no prior research, no Google, no YouTube views beforehand. I only knew he was the friend-of-a-friend and a character, nothing more. Before his set, we are introduced. He’s alone and contemplating a new song of his, one about the things that allow us to survive in our Bizarro world political climate; I encounter a gentle, thoughtful man.

As Hamell warms up, the first thing I notice is the guitar. Hamell uses one guitar for the entirety of his roughly two-hour performance: a 1937 Gibson acoustic, immortalized in his tribute, “7 Seas.” Rigged with black tape and wired to an amp, the wood shows wear, she’s almost dust, and I wonder how much fight she has left in her. But she sounds incredible, warm and knowing, and I can hardly avert my eyes. Only the force of Hamell’s personality tears me away.

Hamell’s website describes him as a “New York-based, folk punk hero,” and goes on to quote people like Henry Rollins, name drop Ani DeFranco, and rattle off the comparisons to Bill Hicks, Tarantino, et al. It’s all true. It’s easy to get caught up in, and laugh your ass off at, the dirty jokes and the shit talk from the stage. Songs like “Pussy” made me blush and giggle. He teased me for taking a few notes during his set. We were all instructed to yell “Fuck you, Vicky” during his birthday serenade of a lovely woman celebrating her 50th. We obeyed.

But scratch a fingernail across the surface and you’ll find a deep well of empathy for humanity, outrage at politicians, an appreciation for raw honesty and the underdogs of society, such as people he refers to in “Whores.” In an adjacent room, Hamell’s paintings are laid out, available for purchase. They reflect a folk-art sensibility and the subjects are of those he deems heroic; current subjects include Greta Thunberg.

So if Hamell on Trial rolls up near you, drop in for a set. Have fun and take shelter from the storm. Unless Hamell is accompanied by his son Detroit, it’ll be a one-man operation, so make sure to drop a few bucks in the tip jar.

Happy Birthday, Vicky!

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