He’s a long way from home and his band aren’t here but as he stands alone on a cosy stage, board games piled high and nameless fish exploring their tank behind him, Philippe Bronchtein, aka Hip Hatchet is bringing a little piece of America with him tonight. His inspiration comes from the road on which he roams and with such a vast expanse of countryside available to him in the States, there are many highways and byways to experience, strangers to meet, women to fall in and out of love with and whiskey to be drunk. All of which is here with him tonight, that backpack of memories has made the trip with him and there are yarns to be spun.
Tucked away underground in a town which, with its beards, tattoos, good beer and nice people, is as close to Portland, Oregon as he has found so far, the intimate setting of The Bicycle Shop is sold out and the audience is hanging on his every word and note. A deep, rumbling voice 30 years older than its owner fills the room and barely a word is uttered as tales of woe, of love, of laughter, heartbreak, redemption, optimism and despair take hold of each and every one of us. For little over an hour we are his, enraptured and captivated as his musical dexterity, remarkable as it is, is surpassed by the kind of lyrical deftness and intelligence that would have many a poet laureate kicking the cat in fits of jealous rage. Not just because of their cleverness and evocative imagery, but because each one is imbued with powerful emotion and meaning. Not a line or word is wasted or superfluous.
He is an incredibly engaging character, bursting with an easygoing charm and charisma. Not many people could drop out of a song halfway through to explain an upcoming reference, the slip straight back in and still have the audience in peals of laughter when the reference is made. In between singing his stories, he tells us more, of where a song comes from, of 3 day drives and the people he met, of the kindness of strangers and fences that were scaled when it ran out. The warmth and genuine affection for his friends, for his travels and indeed for us, his audience and listeners is evident and reciprocated tenfold.
With us as his orchestra, Philippe conducts our mood and our emotions, bringing us to joy and despair as he pulls on our heartstrings with these elegant and compelling moments of blues, folk, Americana and incredible storytelling.
At the start of the evening we are challenged to name the five nameless fish. By the end of the evening, only two have been christened. We are too busy travelling down the road with Hip Hatchet, sitting with him in his dusty Subaru as the tumbleweeds roll past, the mountains loom ahead and poetry trips from his lips and into our souls.