Cody ChesnuTT charms at intimate, interactive night in London | Live Review

The Jazz Cafe in London has been a host to some great artists in its 22 year history. From legendary artists like Roy Ayers to more contemporary musicians like D’Angelo and Raphael Saadiq, many graced its small stage standing next to a (infamous but no longer existing) pillar that simply read ‘STFU’.

The vision was always for it to be a home for artists to play in an intimate venue with little pretension. A good venue should never be generalist; it should work for some and not for others. What tends to make a place like Jazz Cafe unique is people still remember performances from years gone by because that artist and that venue simply fit. This is exactly what happened last Thursday.

The night was billed ‘A Conversation With Cody ChesnuTT’ – which in my eyes sounded like it had all the trappings of a gig with the pretence level set to maximum. However I really like Mr ChesnuTT’s music.

He seems to shun the limelight while having an enigmatic level of talent. Outside of his fanbase, most people remember him from the classic “The Seed 2.0” where The Roots retooled his song and wisely kept him on the vocals. This was the closest he ever got to a mainstream record and it appeared to show on the crowd that started filling up the sold out venue; with a decidedly bohemian vibe about them that seemed to draw from a wide well of backgrounds.

I was curious to see how ChesnuTT intended to have this ‘conversation’ with the crowd. Was he simply going to dish out some anecdotes between some fan favourite songs and go home? It turns out, unsurprisingly, that convention was still not in his playbook.

He got on stage with very little fanfare donning his now ubiquitous blue helmet, equipped with his trusty guitar. The obedient room was instantly quiet when he started speaking. He went on an extended monologue explaining his hiatus with a quiet unassuming yet crystal clear voice. What happened next is what made the night so unique.

Before a single note was played he invited the crowd to ask him anything they wanted and he would be as honest as possible. The size of the Jazz Cafe helped this format and really made it work. Questions flew in from random parts of the venue and were equally random in subject matter; it went from specific [who did you work with on the new album?], to the generic [How do you balance credibility as an artist while achieving commercial success?], to quite frankly the frivolous [What flag is that on the helmet? His answer: “I don’t know, I just picked it up at an army supplies store”].

He always answered, never evaded and maintained a level of charm and affability that was quite refreshing. But eventually, people got tired and demanded what they came for – the music. He obliged and played cuts from his new album, which seems to mirror his last effort Black Skin No Value.

He maintained this format of a mix between questions and a song which gave the night a very personal and interactive feel; which is sorely missed from most gigs. To add further to this effect he even picked an engaged couple and a song about weddings. After every set of questions, he seemed to play whatever the crowd wanted him to play.

I can imagine a section of the crowd, who may have heard of him through his minimal mainstream success, being disappointed with the lack of format; and there were sections vocally demanding he cut short the ‘conversation part’ and get on with the music.

Those who did totally missed the point.

Cody ChesnuTT is no conventional artist and neither are his shows. Ultimately, this was a deeply interactive show which seems to have manifested itself in a refreshingly organic manner. Nights like this are few and far between – and so are true artists like Cody ChesnuTT.

His new album, Landing on a Hundred is out later this year.