Genders, Steven Steinbrink, Ever Ending Kicks and Ghost Ease at Interstate Firehouse Cultural Center, January 19

IFCC show: missed Ghost Ease, but have seen them before and enjoyed it so much, of course I had wanted to see them again.  Anyhow, got here in time to catch most of Paul from Neverending Cake (I think it was?)’s set. Ok, looked online and it’s Ever Ending Kicks. Adds a bit more of an air of melancholy to it, don’t you think? Still, the idea of neverending cake cannot be a bad one, even though I’ve always preferred pie to cake – but only if it’s *not* preceded by the word “cup”, since we all know RED VELVET ANYTHING is the BEST EVER, and using the “Associative Property of Awesome” (TM) that makes Red Velvet Cupcakes THE BEST THING EVER IN THE UNIVERSE.  Of course, this is only so long as we’re talking about the dessert and not the band, which is…a thing I’d rather not talk about.

The IFCC is an interesting building that somehow seems nestled away, despite being quite large and existing one mere block south of Killingsworth. It almost feels like a blink-&-you-might-miss-it kind of thing, but that may be because I’ve driven down N. Interstate more times than I can count & for whatever reason never noticed this was here, even though it sits next to a nice open park that, along with the surrounding neighborhood, seems as if it’s from another time in another city…maybe someplace where it’s always fall but the grass is still green. ..the houses across the street know the names of every face in each passing car & neighbors knock on each other’s doors offering surprise drop-in gifts of cider, cookies and good cheer…feels that way for a moment, at least.

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Inside, a young lady works the door with the understated grace of someone giving their time to a cause they really care about. I almost felt like I was in a movie theater during a Monday morning matinee while standing inside the entrance ante-room, with the giant open space before me & not a soul outside nor inside besides the aforementioned ticket-taker & myself in this rather expansive lobby. For a moment, I almost wondered if I was in the right place, till I saw the posters at the table up front & the merch set-up at an unattended bar in the back.

I had initially been a bit nervous to show up at this show alone, for some reason, which is very odd, since I quite enjoy seeing shows alone. It allows me greater facility to experience the music rather than worry about trying to entertain & be entertained by company that I’m still, of course, delighted to spend time with.  Also, it does seem easier to meet people and have new & interesting conversations about the music when going to a show alone, so I found this sudden uneasiness strange.  I suppose it’s because even though I’ve been a bit of a teetotaler lately, I still feel most comfortable in a bar & this is decidedly NOT a bar.  So why the odd feeling? Maybe since people go to bars to let loose with a bit of besotted boorishness, my own social awkwardness will seem unnoticeable in comparison.  Either that, or I was just born in a bar & feel most at home perched on a stool with dark wood around me, a bit of tobacco haze wafting about & the din of laughing conversation rising above the background music, half-empty pint glass in my hand & a group of ears to bend with some grand recounting of events, be they fanciful or otherwise.  Anyhow, I was surprised to find myself feeling a bit more shy & uncomfortably self-aware than normal, whatever the reason.

I enter the show space, which does nothing to dispel that sensation of being in some sort of theater, be it movie or stage-play.  It’s a tiered auditorium, which I discover after-the-fact is also accessible from a staircase in the back, instead of the front & main entrance I tromped my way though. I slink my way along quietly, past the respectfully-hushed crowd, up the stairs to a seat in the back, trying to draw as little attention to myself as humanly possible while the gentleman, Paul, on stage stands at a mic, playing softly & clean through a telecaster.  You could hear a pin drop in the space between notes, and I marvel at the acoustics as well as the crowd.

After gathering my bearings a bit, I realize that he’s not just playing but live-looping, then playing the guitar live over it, & is incredibly adept, getting all the loops done to his satisfaction (and ours!) the first time around. He begins with a percussive hand-bump over the telecaster pickups to function as a click track, then layers a few palm-mute scrapes for texture, then picks up the bass & loops a track over that, finally switching back from the bass to the guitar, providing a melody line w/ the guitar over the looped track, & then sings in a manner that is somehow both endearingly shy & very matter-of-fact. He’s very talented, though a nervous speaker & I enjoy his set immensely. Paul doesn’t loop every track, playing some alone on the bass & others on the tele. He mentions a record that he silk screened himself to generous applause. Again, I love how attentive & respectful this crowd is.

Next act is Steven Steinbrink, who is just a gentleman with an acoustic guitar & a tenor falsetto, that writes interesting & accessible folky songs. (1)

Steven takes a comfortable perch atop his amp & plays both humbly and easily – a bit more comfortable in his own skin than the last act, but not by so much that the tag of “charmingly self-effacing” can’t be applied to him as well, especially when a bit of guitar-noodling as his mind wanders before a song inspires a “whooo!” from a slightly over-eager member of the crowd induces a comically direct plea of “stop it.” from him.

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Next up is Genders – the remains of what was once Youth (that second part of the sentence sounded a bit too Faulkner for my taste, were it not for the fact that I’m clearly talking about an AWESOME, albeit defunct, band), and a group that I was very excited to see, and justifiably so.  Genders write songs that are poppy with a real analog energy, balancing rawness & sweetness like the best kind of tangerine.  The recording of a song of theirs, “Sugarcoat”, (which they played live) is reminiscent of one of my all-time favorite bands, Standard Fare (which I don’t want to talk about because I’m liable to tear up…they’re breaking up. I hope they listen to this and sort it out. Please?) with its energetic guitar pop & strong vocals.

It’s still pretty clear that this is a young band, still working some of the kinks out & sometimes given to enthusiastic flourish where restrained musicianship might better ultimately serve the song, according to a hypothetical onlooker in some kind of idealized Neo-Platonistic song-making universe, but if forced between one or the other, I will always jump to prefer the former.

That certain kind of musicanship I’m talking about in the latter can be paid for with hard work, but no amount of work, no amount of experience can ever instill a joie de vivre where one is lacking.  It’s an expression of the individuals’ personalities, pure and simple. There is this loose excitement in the music & the playing (in every sense) of it that will always for me trump coming in perfectly on every beat or hitting every note.  It’s passion, and that is why I go see LIVE music nearly every night, not to hear flawless execution, but to share in that contagious feeling that inevitably causes a joyous, unselfconscious smile to force itself across my face and an inescapable toe-tap to take control of my feet.

In short, I wouldn’t trade what I saw tonight for anything.  The sheer, unbridled enthusiasm on the part of the technically talented yet rowdy & comfortable-in-her-own-skin drummer, grinning ear-to-ear with joy, the yelps of excitement from the lead singer, the little sonic flourishes & backing vocals from the other guitarist and the adventurous wandering-runs-without-ever-overplaying of the bassist…it occurred to me, seeing this: with a bit of work & some good fun, by this summer, this band could (and should!) be playing on the earbuds & cassette tapes of half the people in this town.

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Yes, I think they’re *that* good.  I can’t wait to see what the future holds for this band.

-Michael Feck

1   But “folk” in a REALLY GOOD way.  Not to put any one or band specifically on blast, but as opposed to that mercifully winding-down fad of “let’s all pretend we’re really super-authentic depression-era Appalachians who refuse the appellation ‘musician’, but prefer instead to self-identify as just simple people-wearing-Carharts-and-overalls-who-just-happen-to-sing-well & speak-in-some-inspired-form-of-poetic-huckster-patois-that-we-googled-on-our-iphone-before-the-show” or some other variation of this bastardization of the repugnant “noble savage trope”, substituting a subtle classicism for the more obviously offensive racism that the phenomenon usually describes.  Pedestal fetishizing a marginalized group is just as limiting but more condescending than overt prejudice, yet is harder for the offender to grasp, since it’s not born of the hatred that prejudice is.  Intention never trumps action…forgive my digression; as you can tell, this sort of folk I’m castigating and the mindset behind it calls to mind all of the most egregious forms of hipster misappropriation & when I take umbrage, I tend to do it in THE BOLDEST STROKES IMAGINABLE.  The Irish blood runs red hot, I am told, and yet seem to take no offense in this accusation.  Wait for the wind to turn; I’m sure it will.    On a far more pleasant note, I enjoyed Steven’s set tremendously & found it blissfully free of any of  those qualms I just mentioned.

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