A night of dynamic solo sets at The Rickshaw began with Carey Mercer’s project, Blackout Beach. Below the watch of red backlighting, he looped drum beats while strumming live guitar riffs. As the two sounds collaborated throughout his tunes, the fact that one was live and one pre-recorded never detracted from the music’s spontaneity. Mercer’s ambient undertones were equally as organic. His rendition of “Broken Braying Sound of the Donkey’s Cry” left behind rippling reverb in its wake.
Mercer was quick to distinguish his strength as storyteller. The rhythm in his tunes seemed to predominantly exist as a canvas for his rushing words. Besides the occasional concentration of strumming, Mercer’s riffs and drum beats were stretched and linear. Geography was graphed in verse, jumping and falling in patterns of cadence.
The sincerity and fervor of his set may have been best expressed in the tune dedicated to his wife. Of love songs, he admitted, “I’ve only had to write one.” Eyes closed and head upturned, Mercer’s sentiment was visual as much as it was audible. Repeating the words “nobody, nobody,” and “no, no, no,” gave prominence to his romantic ramblings, and made poetic his impassioned stuttering.
After an intermission, the backlighting went off and Dan Bejar’s red acoustic guitar replaced its allure. Without any pre-recorded accompaniment, Bejar played “My Favourite Year” and then “Your Blood.” His strumming enacted the first of many conversations between slow and surging guitar melodies. When combined with his elegiac voice, these pacing changes gave the momentary impression that Bejar wasn’t alone on stage.
“The Chosen Few” came third and displayed Bejar’s vivid skill as a lyricist. His phrasing was succinct and verging on laconic. As he hit the final chord on each riff, he let the last word in the accompanying verse drop: “I know the judge played a part / I know the jury played a part.” This cohesion enunciated his ideas in both rhyme and rhythm.
Next was a track off of Five Spanish Songs. To a non-Spanish speaker, the tune immediately stood out as less idiosyncratic than the others. Bejar’s distinctive stylings, however, soon reappeared as he played “Foam Hands,” “New Song/Strike An Empty Pose,” and “Helena.” The set traveled melancholically through The Rickshaw’s dimness.
During each song interval, Bejar would take off his guitar, bend down for a drink, and then throw back his head in a long sip. These habitual breaks gave off a solemn air and added to the artist’s poetic enigma. Without any banter, the divide between stage and audience seemed very real. Bejar made little attempt to engage and everyone watched him in awe.
“Tonight Is Not Your Night” was followed by a setting-appropriate rendition of “Chinatown.” In each song, Bejar’s words resonated with notable clarity. His lamenting was lucid and never mumbling. Rising above the guitar rhythm, every affecting expression was collectable.
After a couple more tunes, Bejar thanked folks for coming out and left briefly before being called back on stage for an encore. His final song choices were “What Road” and “Virgin With a Memory.” As Bejar riddled repeatedly, “She wanted blood, all she got was sacrifice,” his minimalist set ended in full, multifaceted fury.