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Michael Chapman and Bill Callahan, or the slow growth of something special

Michael Chapman and Bill Callahan, or the slow growth of something special (photo)

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Last night, the 70-year-old British guitarist Michael Chapman played All Day Records, a narrow, dim vinyl boutique in Carrboro, N.C. Chapman stood alone on the tiny wooden stage, wearing a ball cap, a heather gray T-shirt, dark denim, and shiny boots. A few dozen listeners–mostly several decades younger than Chapman, clutching cans of beer they’d brought themselves–crowded the aisles, studying Chapman with the sort of quiet earnestness of a graduate student.

Chapman, after all, is something of a history book: His four records for the British label Harvest in the early ’70s, highlighted by the newly reissued Fully Qualified Survivor, anticipate the freak-folk later popularized by the likes of Devendra Banhart and Joanna Newsom, both with musical dexterity and imagination. What’s more, he introduced Mick Ronson to David Bowie and was, at least in part, responsible for the sound of Bowie’s Hunky Dory.

But he’s not a footnote or a museum piece, notions that were readily dismissed in Carrboro. Chapman played and hosted with the ease and assurance of an aged showman, moving from one song to another in complicated and considered segues that suggested the range of work he could muster with just one guitar. His songs–a motley collection of acoustic numbers that ricocheted from the slide-heavy “Fahey’s Flag” to the perfectly sad “Kodak Ghosts”–circled like smoke in the humid spring air, his voice an old, familiar purr. When he finally did pause, he joked himself and ribbed American Airlines for breaking his guitar, all moves that made the shop feel more like a living room. For a septuagenarian, Chapman was a remarkably dynamic performer.

Maybe that last sentence shouldn’t ring with surprise: In a little more than a month, Chapman will join songwriter Bill Callahan for a six-day West Coast run. Callahan is supporting Apocalypse, his latest album and one of the best collections of his career. First as Smog and now under his own name, Callahan’s two-decade discography suggests that writers and performers–however auspicious their starts–can sharpen their crafts. Late in his set, Chapman introduced “La Madrugada,” a number he wrote in three churches in three countries. Chapman composed that tune–all gorgeous chord sweeps, fluid note tumbles and agile string bends, suggesting Flamenco riding the old American rails–in 2006, more than three decades after he delivered Ronson to Bowie, after Elton John requested that he join his band. It grew only more gorgeous and evolved as Chapman played. As its overtones floated past the shelves, it offered the same affirmation that we see in Callahan’s recent oeuvre: Stick with it, and, finally, it will give you back something infinitely special.

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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