In one of his surreal sight gags, Buster Keaton opens his front door and steps right over the threshold onto a busy street. That's the best image I can think of to describe the tension between public and private that dominates the moody ballads of Toronto singer-songwriter Hayden Desser. His debut, Everything I Long For (1995), recorded mostly in his bedroom, topped Canadian charts and ignited a major-label bidding war here that landed him on Geffen's Outpost imprint. By the end of '96, he'd toured the U.S. and Europe, recorded the title track for Steve Buscemi's film Trees Lounge, and performed at Neil Young's annual Bridge School benefit. Yet Everything I Long For tanked in the U.S., and Hayden dropped out of sight, piecing together a follow-up from various sessions and retreating whenever the songs began to pick up anyone's fingerprints but his own. The Closer I Get is more diverse and interesting than its predecessor, embellishing Hayden's guitar and murmured vocals with banjo, pedal steel, electric piano, and cello; in its delicious melancholy and rainy-day quietude it suggests nothing so strongly as the Velvet Underground's third album. The best of Hayden's lyrics are as elliptical as his music: "I found a bullet outside my door," the singer reports in "Bullet," adding without elaboration, "I think it's me it was intended for." Yet other times there's no there there: "Memphis" falls on its face trying to re-create the night Elvis died, and "Two Doors," the tale of a lonely guitarist longing for the girl in the next hotel room, could've been commissioned by David Cassidy. Hayden returns to Chicagoland with a two-month-old band, performing on the third stage at the Guinness Fleadh and then at Schubas; the party crowd at Arlington will probably trample his matchstick house, but the more intimate venue should afford a good opportunity to eavesdrop on this promising young songwriter. Saturday, 11 AM, Guinness Fleadh (see listings for the order of acts), Arlington International Racecourse, Euclid and Wilke, Arlington Heights; 847-255-4300 or 312-559-1212. Sunday, 7 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport; 773-525-2508.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Ann Giordano.