Too Bad

Nikki Sudden, 1956–2006: A Swell Map's last stand

Nikki Sudden's last ever show was a free affair, but a pitifully underattended treat. The evening's unannounced special guest—a gangling guitarist with stocking cap and fatigue jacket—came out to assist on Sudden staples and extended takes on "Bang a Gong" and "Sympathy for the Devil": chunks of the rock canon that serious Sudden fans might consider him a part of. Several songs later, Sudden, in almost a mumble, offered as an aside that his guest was Evan Dando. The lead Lemonhead was anything but demure, seizing vocal duties at will, as if Sudden and crew were backing him up. His presence did spur a cutting sesch for the books though, with the lot of them pulling off jams like you usually hear on old bootlegs labeled Live-at-such-and-such-Royal-Majesty's-Hammersmyth-Odeon- Albert-Montreaux.

Dando isn't the only aspiring rock deity with a debt. Sudden, long an obscure object of record collector desire, got much recognition in recent years for his far-reaching if indirect influence. He did important work with the Swell Maps, Jacobites, Roland S. Howard, and recently, Mick Taylor of Stones fame. But cred among fellow musicians doesn't guarantee much of a live turnout. Still, Sudden played to the scarcely two dozen people just the same as if he had been performing for the sold-out capacity crowd squeezed in upstairs to see flavor-of-the-week the Gossip. Overdose rumors abound on the Internet—that morass of misinformation—but the medical examiner's office has yet to determine the cause of death. What is for certain is that the 49-year-old singer-guitarist passed at some time shortly after the show.

That final night Sudden nonchalantly leaned into tunes from his all-over-the-swell-map catalog, like "Evangeline" and the recent "Green Shield Stamps" (referencing a boyhood spent on the U.K.'s version of food stamps). And when he gave a disdainful nod toward the crowd during "Too Bad for You," it seemed the song might've been directed at those not in attendance. Too bad for them, I thought at the time. Now, too bad for all of us.

 
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