Foreword by Stan Lerner: a week later and blogs are still coming in about Art Walk – I told everyone to go! Well this new kid is a pretty good writer and we like that in downtownster land. Listen, if there are anymore Art Walk stories being typed away on right now, my dear bloggers, I’ll give you until Friday to get them in. After that we all have to move on to June 11th—that would be the next Art Walk boys and girls!
It was pretty slow at the bar Thursday night-something that would usually bother me, but not that night. I raced around performing all the closing duties in record time-a blur of a black uniform hurling patio chairs, wine and glassware into their final resting places for the evening.
-Hey, slow down. Pour yourself a beer. My boss offered as I raced by with a nights worth of empty bottles on my way to the recycling bin.
This gave me momentary pause-never been one to turn down a beer. Tonight was different though; it was downtown art walk and, in addition to the traditional post art libations at Bar 107, there was to be a much hyped show at the Regent Theater near 4th and Main. I was getting exceptionally anxious after having received numerous texts from attendees perpetuating the buzz. –Get over here man-just talked to some folks who saw these guys last week and said it was AMAZING. I don’t know why the all caps technique is so effective, but it is and I quickened my pace with each such message.
-Sorry boss, not to be ungrateful, but I’ve got to make this show.
I jumped on my bike, a slight buzz from having reversed my position on the beer offer last minute and making short work of it, and sprinted the mile or so from South Park to Gallery Row. I could see the crowd out front from 6th as I sped down Main. Vague directions from a muddled phone call with an insider had informed me I could skirt the cover if I just…this part was unclear. I eyed the entry for a weak point as I locked up and began to formulate a sleuth Steven Segal sneak in strategy. About the time I was deciding which Muy Thai maneuver I would employ were I to get caught slipping in, a sizeable bouncer exited with a show goer of rather slight stature (roughly my size). The unusual thing about this was the door man’s unorthodox escorting technique: he had the poor guy by the throat, and didn’t let go upon reaching the sidewalk but proceeded to the side of an ill placed station wagon. It was there the procession ended and where the bulk of the crowd began to congregate. I fought the urge to stick around and see what might happen next; instead taking the opportunity to enter the recently unmanned door.
I slipped into a sparsely crowded foyer, and could now hear a muffled cacophony of sound from behind the thick doors. I glanced at my phone: 11:30 pm, no time to waste. I made a beeline for the theater proper.
Inside was a good 10 degrees warmer. Holy shit! Edward Sharp and the Magnetic Zeros had managed to fill the soaring space with sound and with people. The Regent is no small theater; 100 folks could easily make the floor feel empty. By my most likely inaccurate estimate, there must have been 500 fans enjoying the 10 piece ensemble that was crammed up on stage, every one of them enthralled by the performance. I was immediately swept up into the current of excitement.
I had heard that Edward Sharp was dangerously close to being “jam bandish,” but tethered by well structured hooks and choruses. This proved to be accurate from the first song; the frightful images of a Phish performance I’d conjured up immediately put to rest. I had stumbled into the venue during a particularly catchy tune being sung by a guy/girl duo that sounded something like Johnny Cash and June Carter had written a piece after listening to a lot of Arcade Fire. The vocalists were backed by steady, austere drumming and spontaneous everything else. The lead guitarist alternated between strumming the rhythm and picking intricate leads on what looked to be an old Gretsch (although I couldn’t really tell from my position), with an ample dose of reverb. Keyboard, tambourine, some sort of oversized tambourine that looked like it was picked up somewhere along the Amazon, and even a gazoo gave heft and dissonance to what may otherwise have been confused for a standard folk pop song. A well amplified trumpeter chimed in and blew notes that rounded out the song perfectly-lending the ear a reference point amidst the almost unruly (in a good way) noise. Completing the act was the most impossibly beautiful accordion player I have ever seen. I fell in love on the spot. Every note she keyed was a shot to my fast beating heart-mine and probably 200 other guys in the room. Good music can have a very similar effect to that of beer; making a goddess of a pretty lady, and I’d already had a couple beers. It was a bit overwhelming.
I worked my way towards the front and most densely occupied region of the theater. This is where the bulk of the dancing was taking place, and I found myself being pulled into the commotion of all those bodies moving to the quick tempo. It was amidst this chaos that I finally located my friends.
-These guys are amazing! Though I have to say I was a little turned off when the front man ditched his shirt, but their set is so good I’ve pretty much let it slide.
The front man had indeed removed his shirt-not my favorite on stage maneuver, it really only seemed proper at the hardcore shows I used to frequent as a young whippersnapper. But, who am I to say? A large portion of the female attendees may very well not have shared our sentiment, some of the guys too; I don’t know.
I settled in up front for four well executed, fun tracks. All of them starting out with a slow, whimsical intro, eventually building into an energetic verse/chorus combo and back again. The well timed trumpeter, the Gretsch wielding guitarist, and the fair accordionist commanded the full attention of the audience. They hit us with a lot of sound; too much to wrap one’s mind around on the spot, but we knew our ears enjoyed what they were hearing.
The final tune ended with the crowd roaring and uneager to leave, but this was not the type of show with an encore. After all, there were 10 people on stage; exiting and returning could be quite a process. We continued to cheer anyway as the members began to break down their arsenal of instruments when, suddenly, a dissenting keyboarder began hitting 2 notes at a steady, rapid pace. It was pretty obvious this was an unplanned action as the musicians all exchanged curious glances, meantime the crowd going bananas. There was too much momentum now-the band knew it and they one by one fell right in with the rogue keyboarder. That last song may well have been my favorite, and when they actually were finished I could only stand there in my black work uniform with a dumbfounded expression wondering what the Hell I had just been a part of.
It’s not very often you go to a show on a whim and it turns out to be an epic experience. It’s happened to me before. I saw Cold War Kids at the Casbah in San Diego just before they released their first EP, and nobody had a clue what they were in for that night; Thursday was reminiscent of this. Its not too often you catch a show that leaves you with a musical high for days. Thursday night was one such show; and it wasn’t some Brooklyn based band blowing through town en route to the top of the proverbial rock n roll mountain. Edward Sharp and the Magnetic Zeros is a local musical group full of potential and passion and first rate musicianship. They are an indie pop that brings whimsy and soul and instruments you’ve never, or rarely, seen together to create an infectious, layered sound. The lyrics probably won’t start any revolutions, but the accompaniment casts such a long shadow that it would take the lines of Bob Dylan himself to stand out from under it.
I can’t say with absolute certainty that Edward Sharp’s studio album will make any waves. I can’t even say what will happen next; if they’ll get big or remain local and just break up one day. I can say that I was one of a few lucky souls to see a group of great musicians playing their respective instruments to a crowd who was responding exuberantly in an old, faded glory theater that was the only possible setting for such a performance on such a night. I can say it’s probably been a long time since the Regent has seen such excitement. It’s a beautiful space with its chipping paint ceilings and cracked concrete floors that many in this sprawling city thought had seen its best days decades ago. But the Regent sat patiently waiting all these years for a night like the 14th of May. And I can truly say I believe it reveled in the renaissance, even if just for a night.