Neil Hamburger – First of Dismay (Drag City)



“The burden is not on the entertainer, it’s up to the audience to come with a positive attitude,” offers Neil Hamburger during an excerpt from one of his live stand up shows featured here, before launching into a tirade against the audience for having the wrong attitude and ruining the show for everyone. This is the most apt description of the American comedian as you can get, burdened by continual obstacles beyond his control such as the attitude of the audience, poor material and mediocre delivery, he still persists in the hope that one day someone out there might get entertained.

This latest addition to the canon of the highly esteemed comedian and entertainer, affectionately dubbed “America’ Funnyman,” only makes sense if you’re Neil Hamburger. And it doesn’ if you’re anyone else. A bizarre mash of obnoxious death on stage stand up comedy excerpts, and upbeat though ultimately quite bizarre and idiosyncratic country music tunes, it never quite manages to gel. Though in retrospect not much about Neil Hamburger has ever really gelled. And although the substance is smeared with reckless abandon across his forehead, he doesn’ seem to have much understanding of the concept.

“Why did your local fire department fill one of its trucks with human piss and shit and spray it all over the fire?” He screeches at one point. “Because it was the Arcade Fire.” That’s just nasty, because apparently some people like that band. Though as social criticism you can’ argue with the merit of the argument.

The live material comes from his most recent tour, where he’ railed against American Idol and pointed his hilariously savage wit in the direction of some of the hottest pop culture stars right now, like Carrot Top, Liza Minelli, U2 and Marcel Marceau.

The music though is nothing short of remarkable. It treads a very strange line. It sounds like he’ purchased the music mail order and decided construct the tunes karaoke style. It’s alternatively upbeat swinging electric country or white man funky soul, over which he’ written the most obscure depressing bizarre tales. It feels very unfair to the music, and the musicians who created it. Perhaps when the music was composed they thought someone might write a tale of losing their farm, or toiling in the fields. Instead the music has been burdened with Hamburger’ frustration with the drawstrings on Kirkland plastic bags, and how he misses Nickel Candy.

Though one thing you can say about Hamburger is that although his topics might seem a little peculiar to devote a song to, you can tell he really feels it. You can hear the gravitas in his voice, the pain, the angst the desperation. His self-penned tunes are virtually indistinguishable from his covers of Merle Haggard’ Mamma Tried or Marty Robbins Overhurt and Underloved. Which may suggest a future career in the genre, following on the coattails of Johnny Cash, reinterpreting classic country tunes and frying them in Hamburger juice for a whole new generation of people who don’ get angry when music is played somewhere in their vicinity. And if that doesn’ work there’ always the comedy.


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Bob is the features editor of Cyclic Defrost. He is also evil. You should not trust the opinions of evil people.