Orioles Card "O" the Day

An intersection of two of my passions: baseball cards and the Baltimore Orioles. Updated daily?

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Fernando Valenzuela, 1994 Fleer #22

Last weekend, I had the excellent fortune to attend an acoustic performance by Brian Vander Ark for the second straight year. Chances are good that you don't recognize the name. In another lifetime (1997 to be exact) Brian and The Verve Pipe had a #1 hit with "The Freshmen". I preferred their lesser hit, "Photograph", probably because it wasn't played to death on the radio and TV. At any rate, I hadn't given the group much thought since my high school days, except for the occasions when one of those two songs shuffled to the front of the line on my mp3 player. They apparently released a few more albums with much less fanfare, and drifted apart save for the occasional impromptu reunion concert. I owe my reintroduction to their music - and to Brian Vander Ark himself - to my friend Lauren.

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.


deal said...

Great post, many great artists are playing the coffee house and Living room concdert circuit. Two of my favorites are Pat DiNizio, the one-time leader of the Smithereens and Steve Poltz who has a couple of baseball related songs and is a personal friend of former Padre Tim Flannery.

Second Motion Records said...

thanks for the great post about Brian!
we have recently signed Brian and will be releasing all three of his albums "Resurrection", "Angel, Put Your Face On" and the new "Brian Vander Ark" on September 30th. we will also have full downloads of individual tracks and full albums from our site as well.

please visit http://www.secondmotionrecords.com to preorder, anyone who buys the CD or full digital album will get a free mp3 of an unreleased live track of Brian covering Bruce Springsteen's "Thunder Road" from Eddie Attic in Decatur, GA. anyone who signs up on our site will get emails for future exclusive materials and downloads in the future as well

thanks for your support!
second motion records