Brian Vander Ark
(June 16, 2002 - The Magic Bag, Ferndale, MI)
Fifteen minutes before the Magic Bag doors were to open, the line to get inside began to wrap around the corner. The fans waiting in the evening sun were an array of MSU alumni, which made me expect the night to bring some Gunson street wildness. Being an MSU alumni myself, I was about to be brought back to a laid back comfort that is so lacking in the Detroit area’s mainstream rock culture.
The seats were filling fast when Minneapolis folk man Mason Jennings took the stage. With Noah Levy on drums, Rob Skoro on bass and Mason himself on acoustic, the trio grabbed the attention of the audience and didn’t let go. Playing songs off of all of his CD’s, including “Butterfly” and “California”, Jennings’ raw vocals and unpretentious lyrics are definitely something out of the ordinary. Their sound reveals a variety of influences – As one fan put it, “Lou Rawls meets Toad the Wet Sprocket.” Keep an ear out for this well-travelled Wisconsin native, as he will surely be heard by the masses.
After a brief intermission, Brian Vander Ark non-chalantly strolled on armed only with his acoustic guitar for support. The crowd was chilled out and I felt like I was back on my front porch in East Lansing, just listening to an old friend playing for the love of it. Pleasantly seated on a stool, Brian began his solo performance with “Miles Away”, from the CD Underneath. The crowd, who had been so social with one another, only had their eyes on Vander Ark as he belted his voice with the songs that have made him and his band, The Verve Pipe so popular. And, when we thought that it couldn’t get any better than this, a man just walked on the stage from the back and began to jam. This man is the one and only Griff from the East Lansing band Botfly. A harmonica playing genius, Griff didn’t have to demand anything from the audience, as we were all mesmerized by his unique style and awesome stage presence. However, Griff wasn’t the only guest that Brian invited to his jam session. Craig Nelson on guitar and Buck Marley on trumpet also lent their talents to the show as they too walked on to play along. Vander Ark performed newer and older songs such as, “Never Let You Down,” “Colorful” and his last song “The Freshman” with an invigorated enthusiasm that left me personally awestruck. Yet, as none of us wanted it to end, we were rewarded with Griff coming out solo to jam in a way that I have never seen done before. He sang, he played and then Brian and the others came out to rock out on the Beatles classic, “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds.”
Brian Vander Ark is more than just a talent, but a pure testament of musical passion as he plays these small venues for the love of the game. Although successful and in the big time, Brian gave me an opportunity to see just what I missed at MSU by one year – Room to breathe and space to listen to such a down to earth set. After briefly speaking to the guys at the end of the show, I left with a little piece of East Lansing musical integrity in my pocket. Let’s all look forward to the Verve Pipe show at the end of July and Botfly’s return to gigging, which is coming in the very near future.
Reviewed by G.M. Pasfield
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