NPR Tiny Desk Concert
Chris Otepka from the Heligoats - Redlight
July 5, 2012
Thursday night. Drinking at Cap’s. Lupe Flores comes in like a whirlwind of hair and laughter and tells me I need to go down to the Redlight to check out her friend Chris from The Heligoats. After another shot of Hussong, I wander down State imagining something out of Revelations 9: an apocalyptic helicopter goat flying around playing a guitar of fire to the sound of screaming.
I find Chris Otepka, pleasant and congenial, standing before an intimate crowd with an ordinary guitar. He sings a few amplified words then, in a haiku move, steps out from behind the microphone to sing beautiful and pure. His sound has the ache of Will Oldham with the wry humor of the late Vic Chestnutt. Ballad type songs, loosely woven narratives, fragments drifting in the memory like forgotten conversations between you and a lost love. A nice rendition of Clem Snide’s “Sweet Mother Russia” with the lines: “The clouds were all cotton / And my mouth got so dry / From those little red pills that you gave me / With your pretty face lost / In a sea of bad haircuts.” Then, later, with quiet strumming across the strings, the song “A Word From Our Sponsor:” “You should know better than to ever put the wind in your plans / And don't look at the red sky this morning and think that you've survived / The moon rises and sets / And then the sun comes up just to say goodbye.”
The songs are all short, sweet and full of quiet intellectual intensity. There is a quality of a modern day troubadour to Otepka, of a musician steadily working at his trade, lightening the burden of being for all who listen. Many of the songs end abruptly, lending them a zen koan-like quality: resolutions unfold in the listener’s memories. After a half dozen songs like this, there is an unsung ghost song haunting the moments in between, the quiet tension of a calculated incompletion, a gathering presence of a sweet loneliness in the room. It is there in one of the last songs, following the difficult imagery of “Boil Over:” “out here my passion is spread too thin / it’s like I love everything.” A perfect coda to a beautiful evening of excellent music by Chris Otepka.