thunder only happens when it's raining

turn on your music device of choice and press play on "the storm is coming" by ed harcourt.

take away everything but that mesmerizing guitar and a baby grand.

put it on stage in a tiny little club with a few microphones, some acoustic guitar, a little xylophone, one floor tom, some harp, and a dim red light. and about twenty people in the audience, most of whom have come to see the opening act.

now listen to it, to ed and leo singing their souls out. it was late for a thursday night gig in northampton, but the crowd lingered on until the end. for nothing less than pure, true, unadulterated emoting. problems and screams and laughter and stories, and covered microphones made to sound like you were listening through the car stereo. flawless and real, with a red t-shirt and some snakeskin cowboy boots.

I sat writing about it in that half-lit table by the stage, but my words failed so miserably... I'll do the best I can now to take you to the place they took me, until it was after one in the morning and my camera was full of stolen moments.

the evening starts with my standard issue behavior: be freakishly early. I rolled into town around 8:15, and the doors weren't opening until at least 9:45. now, for an all ages colin meloy show, I'd be at the end of the building. for ed harcourt, it's a ghost town. a more refined crowd perhaps, definitely not the same swarm of seventeen year old girls that stand mesmerized in front of the stage.

there's only one of those tonight, and she's got the first place in line. with some raspberry apple tea from the haymarket and her weetzie bat book, and a bunch of the opening act's family and coworkers and friends behind her. talking about rice pudding and who is this ed guy she's playing with? I wasn't exaggerating - most of the crowd was there for her, and stayed for him.

ed and leo walk past suddenly and don't hold the door for each other, so there's the banging clunk of guitar cases and amps where there shouldn't be. I would have been in the way if I went for the door. I didn't hold the door.

"I didn't hold the door," I say to the family / coworker crowd. now I'm fifteen. they giggle. so do I.

I redeem myself the next time leo comes by. it's less intrusive and an easy reach, I'm not in the way, he says thanks. I tell him I can't wait for the show. he's happy, but almost surprised. about fifteen minutes later they let us in, and the evening begins.

I've never been in the iron horse when it wasn't fairly full. not only was it a little sparse, but they had left up the tables and chairs. having the pick of the place, I stay off the floor, stage right, and claim a seat, a trip to the bathroom, and a diet soda. leo's behind me, fiddling with his laptop. be bold.

"hi, I'm victoria."

"leo. hi." smiling englishman, twelve o'clock.

"I was wondering what your photo policy is - I don't flash." this seems to be the standard line, my not flashing sentence. it gets a laugh sometimes, but I usually say it without thinking, because it's what I hate the most - it's like sneezing in a perfect moment of silence or suspended note or something.

"our policy is for you to take them," he grins. "we love it."

"great - it's really cool to get to hear you guys in a place like this. I've only heard a few songs, on KEXP from the in-studio."

"wow. and you're here?"

"yes. I'm saving up to move out west, and I'm not really spending money on things, but my friend and I decided that I needed to be here."

"I hope we don't disappoint you then!" all leaning and looking and eye contact making. he's cute, and carries himself like a sensuously brilliant guitar player loverman. he's sweet and strong and thinking.

I grin and leave him to his thing, whatever he's pulling up on his computer, and I start wandering around. it's great to have all this space in here - no "excuse me, excuse me" or "could you save my spot" or anything. I wander to the back and to the tables and down the stairs as the opener makes her way to the stage. we talked for a minute outside, and I wish her good show and she's weaving her way to the stage. I start crawling around the lower level, snapping shots of anything that strikes me. I have time and space and I'm just kind of floating here and crawling over this and that.

leo and I bump into each other.

"fancy we meet again, then" (him, obviously) "I wonder if you could tell me where the men's conservatry is?"

I can't help but smile and say, "if it's anywhere near the women's conservatory, it's right down that hall." he ambles off and I keep shooting. then I hear a voice - it's pure and clear and it floats down the stairs the same way I'm kind of gliding around. sliding and wrapping around poles and steps and under benches, like a ghost pulling a piece of silk.

"roxanne..."

there's no guitar. just that voice.

"you don't have to wear that dress tonight..."

she's the pied piper. my arm lowers, camera still in hand, and I slowly walk up the stairs in a trance. as I emerge, I head to the right and take my place behind the board. I look up. she's singing so completely, full of music and stars and full glasses and clean countertops. she's sunlight in the windows, and if you put a sailor dress on her and did her hair just so, she could be behind one of those old radio station microphones singing a boogie woogie song. she's lived many lives before this one, here with us. but while she's taking the time to stop by, she tells us stories. about dating a boy who was friends with all his exes, how she was ankle deep in them, and how she might be better off as one. how he's why she's drinking in this very bar. and about sex, indirectly (why don't we not go to the movies tonight) to laughter and hushed reverence. I have quite possibly never in my life heard a more appropriately matched opening act. she's the non-stick coating on the pan to hold the cake that is ed. she's the salt on the margarita glass. and she's got a bitchin' promo poster.

I was broke, but at least I signed up for her mailing list. her name escapes me at the moment, sheila or sylvia someone. I'll update with it later. sylvie. sylvie lewis.

I forgot to mention that they had let us in so early that ed and leo were part of the room when we came in - no rockstars or hiding or anything. up on stage, talking, strumming, unpacking - or maybe I did mention it indirectly by talking about talking to them when I arrived. anyways, I didn't want to forget about that part. they were just there, like friends of yours playing a gig on a weeknight. soundchecking while you sat on the steps to the stage wondering what the night ahead and the weekend would hold. laughing and making plans and knowing that you all can't wait to play, and write about it later.

so there's some casual conversation among the twenty or so remaining attendees, and ed and leo just kind of wander up and screw around with things for a few minutes. there's a really, really annoying guy who has approached me a few times to ask me to sit with him and his friend, and by the speed of his speech he's either neurotic or totally geeked out. I opt for the latter, based on his chronic sniffles that he punctuates his words with. ew.

but before he ruined it, I did manage a good postcard of loneliness in this corner:

ed and leo came to life suddenly like someone flipped a switch. I do an award-worthy breakaway from Scary Cocaine Guy and find my way up front. they were timid at first, strumming a little louder, screaming now, and banging on piano keys. the crowd was so impressive, waiting for the last moment of the last note of each song to ring out into the air - clapping only when there was true silence following, or after a hand on the guitar strings stopped the ringing. in all the shows I've ever been to (the ones with strangers at least) I'd never seen anything like it.

they went on to play for about two hours - picking us up and letting us down. falling in love and crying for love lost. and ed, asking for the lights to be darker. darker. darker, still - and then my camera came alive.

I shared the moments between leaning against the wall with my eyes closed and having to dance around to the sheer bliss of it. the words that kept coming to me were pure, and clean, and true, and unadulterated. there was magic in the air that seemed to settle on everything like fairy dust, only it was a little grungy, coming from some unshowered englishmen. but still.

we called them out for a four-song encore. coins were flipped and both sides won. the crowd that had lingered on for "the guy coming up after" shouted for more. we heckled and swooned and fell in love with ed and leo, all at once.

and then it was so quiet afterwards.

someone turned on bjork in the background to fill the empty spaces. and there's me, furiously trying to record every moment in my black moleskin book covered in starbucks stickers in the aforementioned darkened red stage light. now it's 1:30 on a thursday night and I realize that this magical night has got to end - and as I wandered off to hit the bathroom before the drive back, ed harcourt himself stopped to chat. it seems comical to say it now, right when it couldn't get any better - because it keeps getting better every fucking time. I once again was beyond not blushing. I was able to unwrap my mind from his searching eyes and tell him that they really got it from here (touching head) to here (arms outstretched) and that they translated it all so well - that all of their everything really came through in every single song. and that it was so cool to hear where their heads were at, so clear and pure, that it was like your friend's band up on stage. the ones you knew would blow your mind. so that if he wondered if they were doing it, that they were. enough that I'd driven almost two hours for not more than three songs on KEXP.

I'm a big girl.

he talked for a while about what he thought went wrong - so down to earth about it all - and gave me his email to send the link to the pictures they so badly craved me taking. I just can't wait to do this with some decent equipment.

the night was good. it was all so very good.

~vvb