For his last few visits to the town he once called home, Cory Chisel has played to a packed Lawrence Memorial Chapel in Appleton.
Those performances, with onlookers packed into pew-like rows and Chisel’s Wandering Sons sending their folky roots rock tunes echoing off of the high ceilings and balcony, offered up a beautiful scene.
The first of Chisel’s two homecoming shows at his old stomping grounds, Neenah’s Cranky Pat’s, also was a beautiful scene. Just of a much different variety.
The pizza-stuffed patrons of the sold-out venue seemed as happy to welcome back the singer/songwriter as he was to again play the stage in his “favorite place to be,” as he put it early in the night.
Chisel’s set, a collection of songs from his two major releases (2009’s “Death Won’t Send a Letter” and 2012’s “Old Believers”), deep cuts, covers (including the Clash’s “Guns of Brixton”) and new tunes, ran more than two hours. Even after announcing at one point that the upcoming number, “Pale Blue Dress,” would be his last, Chisel seemed to have no interest in heading out into the suddenly snowy night. He followed up with the crowd-pleasing “Over Jordan,” a surprise cover of Nirvana’s “About a Girl,” the rocker “Longer Time at Sea” and finally the night’s farewell, a vocals-and-claps-only rendition of “These Four Walls.”
As much as a Lawrence Memorial Chapel show is a well-plotted showcase, his visit to Cranky Pat’s had the feel of a house party – rising temperatures, lots of booze and urges from Chisel for the folks in attendance to “get loose” and two glasses-raised toasts to the venue. A bartender even was asked from the stage to deliver a whiskey shot to a random “gentleman in the front with the kind face.”
Chisel also made what may prove to be an exciting announcement for the Fox Valley, in that he plans to curate a music festival in Appleton this summer. The night’s opening act, Madison-based PHOX, are already on the bill, and Chisel said he planned on having singer-songwriter Justin Townes Earle in town for the event.
With so much history, the night featured several moments that other bars or theaters couldn’t replicate. Midway through the set, Chisel prefaced his performance of “Born Again” with a mention that he wrote part of the song in the back room of Cranky Pat’s — “Part of it was covered in mysterious cheese.” When first written, he said, it was actually a reggae song. The band then played about a minute of that version before rolling into the real thing.
Also reggae-inspired was a new tune offered up, identified on the setlist as “Such is Life.” The song, Chisel said, was written in preparation for an upcoming visit to Jamaica.
In keeping with the night’s celebratory tone, Cranky Pat’s owner Dave Earle was invited onto the stage mid-set for some love from both the crowd and from the night’s host. “He was the first to pay me, the first to feed me pizza and the first to make me think I had a chance outside of these four walls,” Chisel said.
Since coming up with Breathing Machine more than a decade ago, Chisel has found many comforts outside those walls. Still, whether returning from Nashville, Los Angeles or across the globe, Cranky Pat’s still fits him like an old, cozy fedora.
Cory Chisel and the Wandering Sons return to Cranky Pat’s Saturday for a 10 p.m. show with opening act Christopher Gold. Tickets are sold out.
–Shane Nyman, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @shanenyman