HAYDEN with NOAH MINTZ at the Rivoli, October 18. Tickets: $15. Attendance: 200. Rating: NNNN
maybe it was the disastrousshowing of his big-budget major-label disc, The Closer I Get, or the fact that he managed by his own estimation to write one song every two months over the past two years. Whatever the cause, you've got to admit that a couple of years in seclusion changed Hayden. His new Skyscraper National Park disc, recorded at home with just a few friends helping out, is the gruff folkie's most accomplished and tuneful set to date, intimate and also occasionally upbeat.
Thursday's sold-out comeback show at the Rivoli -- the second of two -- only made the new material stand out even more. With the stage lit like a rec room, including his old deer rug hung on the back wall, Hayden kept things loose and surprisingly light.
Moving between acoustic guitar and piano and occasionally inviting up guests like Kurt Swinghammer on rubbery guitar, Howie Beck, Mitch Roth and Josh Malinsky, Hayden strummed through most of his new record and a few older songs with uncommon levity, cracking up the crowd with between-song banter, singing snippets of hair club jingles and getting fans to croon along on the la-la chorus to Carried Away.
The gap between the new songs and the older material couldn't have been wider. It's not that Hayden's no longer just writing about staying in bed, but he's added considerable variety and new dimensions to his songwriting, from the short pop tune All In One Move to the compelling but paranoid murder ballad Bass Song.
Next to these tunes, plodding Harvest rip-offs and the glum folk grunge of As Bad As They Seem didn't stand a chance. Clearly, Hayden's time out of the spotlight was time well spent.