To call Lauren a Verve Pipe devotee would be an understatement. She tells stories of following the band on tour as a teenager, and I don't doubt her for a second. Everything came to a head last summer, when she announced her intent to celebrate her birthday (and the birthday of her boyfriend Andy) by hosting a concert by Brian Vander Ark in the beautiful old home that the couple rents in Washington, DC. As it so happens, Brian's spent the past five or six years focusing on a solo career, free from the shackles of a corporate record label. As of this writing, he's released four solo albums and a few live bootlegs. Of course, Verve Pipe royalties only go so far, presumably. So to help cover his expenses, he takes bookings all around the country for a reasonable fee: he's played venues ranging from colleges and coffee houses to living rooms and back yards. I personally think this is incredibly cool, though some of my friends
assumed that such an enterprise was an act of desperation, a Spinal Tap-esque tour of denial.
The thing is, Brian Vander Ark is playing his music in the smallest of venues, and he seems to be loving every minute of it. He travels with no entourage, and mingles with the guests before and after his performance, introducing himself as simply "Brian". He allows his hosts to choose much of the set list, though he teased Lauren for her Verve Pipe-heavy preferences, insisting that he'd need help remembering the words ("Are you sure you don't want to hear 'The Freshmen'?"). He even invited Lauren to share the microphone for a song or two.
This year's show (again meant to celebrate Lauren's birthday) had a bit of a different vibe. A fellow Brian Vander Ark fan that she knew had already been planning to book him, so Lauren offered up her house for convenience's sake. This meant that there were several toddlers bouncing around the living room, a rare sight at this particular venue. When Brian entered unannounced, guitar case in hand, he remarked, "I'd forgotten how great this place is!". If the children were a distraction, he didn't let on. In fact, he laughed right along with us as a few of the kids bopped manically to his soulful, introspective music. He also obliged a young boy who insisted upon receiving a high-five at the conclusion of each song. Of course, it probably helps that he's now a father himself: he wrote the song "Evangeline" for his daughter.
Brian gets some laughs when he introduces the song "Colorful" by talking about his participation in the Mark Wahlberg film "Rock Star". "I had a mullet for four months, for about thirty seconds of screen time." Wahlberg sings "Colorful" to Jennifer Aniston in the film's climactic scene - or so it would seem. "I'm watching the movie, and he opens up his mouth, and my voice comes out," Vander Ark tells us. "It was a weird feeling...until I started getting the checks. They'll put my daughter through community college. 'The Freshmen', on the other hand..."
He closes the show by leading the motley crowd in a cover of "Here Comes the Sun", just as he did last year. It's a happy note to go out on. There might be a snide connotation to "One Hit Wonders", but don't forget that these musicians are capable of some really moving artistic expression. Just because it doesn't sell a million copies doesn't mean that it's not worth seeking out. Brian Vander Ark is a gifted storyteller with his guitar. But he's a devoted father and husband, and an easygoing and grateful person, too.