I first heard Stephen Steinbrink in a suburban basement, around 4am. The evening’s wild, drunken revelries were dying down, a guitar was being passed around the small circle of musicians, and he was begged to play. He played two songs (one cover and one original) which were so simple, direct, delicate, and great, that it felt like everyone else in the room was holding their breath.
Steinbrink is a singer-songwriter, originally from Arizona, who also has strong ties to the Pacific Northwest lo-fi indie-pop community, but he tours and travels so relentlessly that it’s hard to pin him to one location. His music’s not hard to find, though; his wandering has sometimes brought him to Charlottesville multiple times on a single tour. Steinbrink is also extremely prolific, and it’s almost certain that each time he returns he’ll have not one but several new albums under his belt.
He sings in a high, thin, effeminate voice that might be easy to initially dismiss if he didn’t bring such force and clarity to both his writing and performance. He’s able to project intense, almost overwhelming, vulnerability, but that fear and self-doubt – totally genuine – is presented with almost defiant confidence and charm. It’s a combination that brings to mind the mellower, more lyrical work of Arthur Russell (whose songs Steinbrink has paid tribute to on several occasions). Whether performing solo with an acoustic guitar, or with his backing band French Quarter (a trio whose impeccably simple tightness recalls a mellower version of the Minutemen), his performances are indelible experiences. His numerous recordings are all solid, taking shifting, open-minded approaches to production and arrangement but always serving as a effective vehicle for his songs. Steinbrink is as thoughtful as he is productive, and despite his deadpan, goofball sense of humor, there is clear care and attention in each of his varied projects (his merch tables often include zines and hand-made crafts).
Erik the Red’s deep baritone puts his voice at the opposite end of the spectrum from Steinbrink’s, but his music is equally likeable. The once-reclusive musician, never without a wide grin on his face, has in recent years gone from Central Virginia’s best-kept secret to a vital part of the local music community, holding down not one but two weekly gigs in town (he plays solo at the Whiskey Jar every Monday, and with his band at Durty Nelly’s every Tuesday). Red writes simple songs of country living that are so genuine they could have come from another time — though never from another place.
Erik DeLuca has done everything from Academic composition to moody post-rock, but his latest project, Den, will reportedly take his music in a different direction in their debut performance, enlisting a six-piece brass band and a soul singer.
These three unlikely, yet equally wonderful musicians all play at the Tea Bazaar this Monday, and the event is not to be missed.
Monday 2/17. $7, 9-12pm. Twisted Branch Tea Bazaar, 414 E Main St. 293-9947.