June 10, 1998
Storming the Fort
Bryan Thomas and Mario Sevayega @ The Fort at the Sidewalk Cafe. New York, New York.
A Monday afternoon in June. Mario and I are sitting outside Borders Books and Music in Albany. After an hour-long discussion of the state of our respective music thangs, we just kind of stare at each other in silence.
"So whaddya wanna do now?"
'"Well we wanna start playing in New York, right? So let's set a date to go down."
A pause. The shit is easy to talk about, but now it's starting to get real. Scary.
"When you wanna do it?"
"I'm ready to go now."
Is this a bluff, or is this for real? A quarter is drawn.
"Heads we go, tails we stay."
It's heads. We get in the car and head to Mario's crib to pick up his guitar and his "hiplery." And we're out. Heading down 87 once again. This time to play. For real.
Get to the sidewalk with just minutes to spare before Lach's lottery. Mario draws 17. I draw 22. In a field of 45ish performers, these ain't bad numbers. Most likely we'll hit the stage after midnight, maybe after one a.m. But we got the game face on.
Mario had heard Lach do some weather special fx behind this one dude's tune called "Storm Cloud," so when he gets up to the mic, he asks Lach for some of the same to help the mood, and encourages spontaneous, free-form word association. Lach is more than happy to oblige. Haunting intro, a capella, with much delay on the vocals. Guitar comes in with thunder in the background. And then the storm that is Mario. Just took control of the room. And cheers and applause when he sang, "Let's have a party... We can go crazy..." cuz it was a big party. A coupla cats were coming up to him afterwards, asking for contact info, asking if he had a tape or cd. A really good response - especially considering that the audience had kinda tired out at that point. Brother Mario woke 'em up. Cool.
Problem: the kid right after Mario kinda clears the room. The few that remain go back to sleep. If I have to play to an empty, sleepy room there's no energy to feed off - so I'm starting to get scared. So the throat starts to constrict, a combination of the smoke in the room and the psychosomatic fear of failure.
Room starts to pick up, collects some more people as my set approaches. A birthday party: someone named Kim has been bar hopping with her pals; they've decided to cap off a rowdy evening with a booth in the back of the room. Much laughter.
"Coming to the stage now... Bryan Thomas."
I creep between the tables.
"That is an interesting looking guitar you got there," says Lach, into his microphone. A pause. 'It's beeee-zarrrrre. What brand is it?"
"Um... Godin. G-g-g-goe-dannn. Like Rodin."
I'm thinkin' the Thinker, he's thinking -
"Ah, Rodan, yes. Battled Godzilla in the fourth movie."
Crowd is laughing. I'm nervous. Plug in and start sound-checking with the intro to sundays - a.k.a. The funk.
But Lach has found his cosmic comic groove, and he runs with it, as only Lach can, in the perfect, dubbed-Godzilla-movie voice:
"Godzilla must travel to monster island to do battle with Godin... Break the strings of the guitar beast..."
More laughs. But the funk slips thru a pause in the comedy. Lach changes the subject: "Wow... Your guitar comes with a lot more notes than mine does." More laughs, now accompanied by cheers, applause, encouragement. What a room. I kick the lyrics, and damn are lyrics important in this room. So: "I need three more Sundays, to get me through tomorrow..." hanging on every word. "Can I pray three Sundays' worth in just one night?"
Nods. Mmm-hmmms. An "all right" here and there. Affirmation.
It's when I get to the breakdown verse that things really take off:
Nods. Mmm-hmmms. "You need not return the favor..." It starts to sink in. The hooting and hollaring begins. "Kneeling at your altar speak in tongues I say a prayer..."
It's a trip to have a room respond to "Sundays," and they do. I don't think I've ever had a room get this song like this. Wow.
I close out 'Sundays' to really supportive applause. Hoots. Hollars. "Thank y'all," I say. "Cool."
The response makes "Apartment D' that much easier to close with. Unfortunately, the throat is still a little constricted, so I can't concentrate on articulating the lyrics like I did with "Sundays," but the groove is still there. Much applause when it's all over, eight hours of effort from the moment Mario flipped the coin.
'That was Bryan Thomas, ladies and gentlemen," says Lach, "Brought to you by the letters a thru f.' and then: "That was great man, that really rocked."
Kim and her birthday buddies are still whooping it up by the time I get to my seat, chanting something to Lach. "What? What'd you guys say?"
"Book his ass!" one of them says.
"Oh, you want me to book him. Okay." a pause. "So whaddya say, man, next Monday, two song set..."
There's laughter, pretend disgust.
"Oh I thought you guys meant another open-mic nite," he says. "Okay, okay." Then, still in the mic, but to me: "I'll talk to you in a minute, man, we'll hook you up."
Surreal ain't the word for it. Beyond that. But what a trip man.
So I'll see y'all there again.