Stephen Steinbrink is a gem, burrowed deep in the bunkers of basements & record store taverns, a never-ending whirlwind of travelling, writing, recording. He is, as Patti Smith of Tom Verlaine of Television, a rock ‘n roll angel.
Born & raised in the weird but fertile music scene of Tempe, Az., gaining a nearly legendary status in the underground with his band French Quarter, but recently transplanted to Olympia, Wa.
It feels as if my fate is somehow intertwined with Stephen’s, like we’re two horseshoe nebulae caught in the gravitation well of the experimental Event Horizon. I first encountered his music at Rhinoceropolis, a funky live-in DIY venue in industrialized Denver. This was nearly 5 years ago, and an opportunist might consider this depressing, a pair of aging sad-sacks gracing the floors of ramshackle dumps the world over, for decades. For me, i find it thrilling, re-assuring. Never stopping, never succumbing to the status quo, moving forward, attempting to perfect yr craft. Over time, the musicians that i have seen, listened to, obsessed over, have become like an extended family of radioactive cousins. Windy & Carl, Thurston & Kim, Alan & Mimi, are like surrogate parents to a legion of dispossessed Lost Children in the wilderness, poring over their records like family photo albums.
It might be a sad fate to be delegated to a decade in the loft space ghetto, if not for the fact that Stephen Steinbrink has been continually expanding and refining his ethereal brand of trance folk. The first time i saw him, at Rhinoceropolis in Denver, he was playing by himself, a solo acoustic set in the dark, to 8 or 10 reclining beatniks sprawled out on the floor. Even in such a humble environment, i was awed. His guitar playing was concise and perfect, alien beautiful chords ringing out like coral encrusted church bells. Never a missed note, never a flawed delivery. He may be soft-spoken, but his heart roars with the lions on the Savannah, and i say Thank God For Music, for all that are pent up, misunderstood, too passionate for our own goddam good.
For last night’s set, a Mon. night at The Record Room, a truly fantastic concept for a venue: bar/nightclub/record store. I paced and picked through Dylan box sets, as faded ’70s lullabyes soothed and swayed me like a hammock. In short, paradise, a perfect night out. Stephen Steinbrink played by his lonesome, for the first half, and was unexpectedly joined by almost the whole band LAKE, + some hotshot electric guitarist who was tearing shit hot (who are you enigmatic curly haired guitarist?) It was Eli Moore on bass, Andrew Dorsett on Fender Rhodes, the masked man on electric (he wasn’t actually wearing a mask, but he was a badass), and Ashley Eriksson on drums. The most notable aspect of this performance was that this group of individuals were able to get all their levels hanging in a tenuous perfect balance, like a Kandinsky mobile in mid air, and this foundation gave Steinbrink’s unique acoustic fingerpicking and songwriting the opportunity to flourish, take off. Considering the fact that everybody plays multiple instruments, as well as in multiple projects, the band was remarkably sensitive, in tune, letting the mood build and spill over, transcendence achieved. Musical nirvana on a Monday night.
Everybody i have ever played Stephen Steinbrink or French Quarter’s music for has freaked the fuck out and become an immediate, slavering acolyte. Join us: http://stephensteinbrink.com
Lloyd & Michael (i think) were up next, and played a spindly, taut creole of post-punk, post-funk, math rock, afro/caribbean + south american riddims. The descriptors sound like hipster trash, but these androgynes have been playing music for over 10 years together, starting off with a band called Dear Nora, before splintering off into sundry solo careers. They finally ended up in the same city at the same time, and re-convened as Lloyd & Michael. They are re-capturing, re-defining the wolf-headed, star-spangled, gluten-free cultural appropriation of middle class white guilt, and transmogrifying it into an alternate universe of passion and romance, staying up late on dumpstered espresso beans and arugula, drawing comic strips of missed kisses and lysergic slurpees and making something surprisingly grown up in the process. At one point, they burst into what sounded like a Zapatista protest song, and where this kind of thing normally has me fleeing for the fire exits, these blokes actually KNEW THE SONG and DELIVERED IT CONVINCINGLY, fluent spanish interspersed with fluent guitar solos. I say we are beyond the debate of whether or not you SHOULD play music from other cultures, and the only thing that matters now is CAN YOU PLAY IT WELL. Lloyd & Michael (and their third member of electronics and drum machines) play it well, indeed, and you can be damned sure i will be playing their music on numerous sweaty bike rides and naked camping trips this summer.
Last but not least, the wonderful Ashley Erickson, also of the band LAKE. We weren’t able to catch her whole set, but got enough to get a taste, and remind me that i need to pick up a copy of her most recent solo record, Colours, (hopefully with one of the sweet handpainted covers). This is how they put it on the K website:
Ashley is a modern renaissance woman. She plays with multiple projects, paints, travels, dances, dreams, composes poetry on the piano and engineers and records her own albums — your basic dreamboat.
She played solo, accompanying her Carpenters-inspired psychedelic pop with Fender Rhodes. A skeletal set-up, but surprisingly warm and full, playing to the advantages of the lo-fi vocal effect common to every small venue everywhere. She may be best known for having a song on Adventure Time (as does her band LAKE), but there is more than rainbow unicorns and saving princesses to her. She (as well as her bandmates) are that rare combination of smart, tasteful, and creative while remaining cool and accessible. She is a well-rounded human being, making interesting, personal, and genre destroying music, because she likes it and she feels it. It’s so rad to watch people switch instruments, hop bands, getting down for the sake of the sound, looking for that perfect groove, that infinite pocket where we can all be happy. This is the thing i was looking for, that drew me towards the Pacific Northwest, and i’m always struck like a bolt of blue lightning, whenever i see such ingenuity, comradery, and dedication to one’s muse.
In case you weren’t able to make it to The Record Room last night, this same group will appear at the Anacortes Unknown Music Festival, July 19 – 21, in Anacortes, Wa., along with myriad other inspired Boddhisatvas.
Filardo played also, but i’ll have to wait to Anacortes to see them.