The instruments cut out. A persistent hum lingers from the back of the stage. The last words, belted out in confident harmony, reverberate off the brick walls of the club. There were three voices, each distinct, but linked, like puzzle pieces or a spinning gear train. And the applause has barely settled when the clean tones of the Telecaster break through the din.
Cautious at first, like he's feeling for the light switch down darkened cellar stairs, Nicholas explores the chords one or two notes at a time, coming in and out of rhythm and tone. Low strings descend. High strings drone. Resting on a note here and there, he tweaks a tuning peg. When he finds what he's looking for, he steps to the center mic. The voice is ragged and weary. His mouth barely opens. "What if I never saw you?" He asks. His voice wanders around a melody. Assuredness builds and realizations beget more questions.
From behind a piano, stage right, Leah joins in, her voice clear, sultry, "Can you say, can you say, can you say that?" They interrogate the subject, "While you look me in the eye?"
Now Nich stands tall, finally looking out from the stage as Mark, stage left, adds a third line to the harmony. "Can you laugh, can you laugh, can you laugh?" Bellicose. Teeth bared,
"Can you cry, can you cry, can you cry..." The chord sustains and the wave recedes. "Yeah, yeah, yeah..." He trails off again, giving way to Leah's piano. A bold run of octaves swells briefly, recedes, then, in unison, on the last note of the run, the band is let loose.
Corry's bass shakes the floor in sync with a crash and a punch from drummer, Nick Conti. He drives the beat. Steady, reliable, strong. Easily shifting from half-time to double and back. Mark fills the gaps like a bricklayer, picking his Gretsch Country Gentleman. He strikes the beat hard and his counter-rhythm is thick and filled with grit,
but it never spills over.
The piano swells and recedes throughout, splashing over the top then filling in down low as Corry climbs the neck, shifts the weight up top, then rolls back down to the root. And as quickly as they come in, they drop back out. Cymbals decay, ceding the field to Nich's voice. This time it's clear and insistent. And again, voices are added. And they build. And recede. And build. And again the band is called back,
"Yeah, yeah, yeah."
This time they hit harder and the vamp plays out longer, but again, it fades. The decaying sustain of Mark's overdriven guitar dissolves into a warm feedback that he cuts in and out and it sounds like a heart monitor. It flatlines as Nich finds the verse one last time. Now there's resignation in the words. "Guess I ain't the man I thought I was..." He falters, "Guess I get my signs mixed up..." And his voice cracks as he strains, "'cause I keep seeing you look away..." Then three voices together, intensity building with each repetition, "But you stay... You stay... You stay-" and the tension in the keys and the strings and the skins is palpable when they shout out, "Yeah, yeah, yeah!" Nich shifts his Tele into overdrive, the band opens up. The release is cathartic. They play the progression over and over, the players stabbing out variations here and there, as Nicholas tries to find the right combination of bends and hammer-ons and pulloffs and noise to play the part of the story that couldn't be told. And when he's given up, he walks back down the neck of the guitar and the band settles into the last notes, striking the final chord together. And when that fades. They thank the folks that stuck around, and the local club that had them back again, and the talented musicians that shared the cozy stage. "Thanks very much everybody. Hope you had a good night."