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“I’m still trying to work it out—how to follow God and still give you the old shit,” said Basehead

guitarist-songwriter Michael Ivey to a shouted-out request for early material last Thursday night at the Black Cat. Ivey, a Howard grad, is best known for the dorm-room funk of his one-man band’s 1991 debut, Play With Toys, whose subject matter alternated between the sophomoric (“Ode to My Favorite Beer”) and the somber (“Evening News”). However, on Basehead’s third effort, 1996’s Faith, Ivey’s lyrical approach changed: He had found Jesus. While he continued to offer downhearted plaints about the ways of the world, he had dropped the funny stuff for the spiritual. Now, two years later, Ivey is back with a new Basehead and a new Basehead CD, In the Name of Jesus, on his own Union of Vineyard Workers label.

Ivey is still obviously singing about Jesus on CD No. 4, but he’s far from a stereotypical Christian artist. “I’m kind of wary of the Church,” he says. “I know there’s this whole Christian music market, but I don’t think, theology-wise, I’m in agreement with a whole lot of Christians. It’s really shocking to me how the church really isn’t about Jesus but is about Paul. Christianity as an institution has used the letters of Paul out of context. In fact, I don’t know whether I like even being called a Christian.”

Despite his quandary about performing his back catalogue, Ivey did give the audience some of his old material, mixing it with tunes from Faith and Jesus as well as newer compositions. Ivey has said that through his lyrics he wants to reach a “faith community.” But his cynicism about conventional evangelical types and what he calls his “self-conscious” attitude about putting his vocals up front in the mix were plainly evident. His reticence, along with the standard Black Cat soundboard emphasis on the instrumentals, made his lyrics largely unintelligible.

Although Ivey now looks like a Rastafarian with his bushy beard and his tam-covered hair, he didn’t sound like one last Thursday. He nervously peppered his between-song-patter with “shit”s and “motherfucka”s. While Ivey may feel comfortable describing his beliefs on the phone, or onstage in front of 80 or so people, he self-deprecatingly introduced a set of songs by referring to them as “the new, reborn, love-God Basehead stuff.”—Steve Kiviat