At Annapolis showcase, musicians have a night of their own
In a weekly series at the Austin Grill, musicians share their original material and a sense that local talent is deep
Riffs and revolution
A big-screen TV looms behind them, and promotional Corona posters flank the stage, signs of the venue's chain-eatery ambience. But once the veteran players start their act, things couldn't feel more personal.
Thumping out a rhythm, then framing Murray's bluesy voice with a sequence of jazz chords, Ewald lays the foundation for a loopy "Acoustic Trance," a sad-relationship number by Murray called "The Words," even a disco-flavored piece called "Get By" on which the guitarist uses a looper pedal to unfurl a "Saturday Night Fever"-style beat and a wah-wah solo.
The songs date back as far as 1996, when the two started performing together, but have as fresh a feel as the pair's onstage humor.
"Do you know why you have to be musically inclined to cross the street?" Ewald asks after he and Murray improvise a country song on the spot, including lyrics. "Because you have to C-Sharp, or you'll B-flat."
"He's the joke-teller; I'm the laugher," Murray says.
Then Page steps up, his black T-shirt and shaved head asserting his presence with all the nuance of a Sonic Youth power chord.
"I'm going to play a few songs that have changed the course of my destiny," he says with a smile, hands atop his cutaway acoustic guitar. "They might make you feel good. They might [tick] you off. Either way is good."
He starts with "The Pendulum," the tune that came to him in 2006. He didn't understand the lyrics as he wrote them, he says, but as he pondered them after the fact, he realized he'd framed a purpose in life — not to sing about relationships and himself, but to warn listeners of something far more important: their ongoing loss of liberty at the hands of a vast, dishonest government.
Since then, the songs have poured out of him, says Page, who has put out two recent CDs, appeared on XM Radio and performs regularly at rallies for Texas Rep. Ron Paul, the Constitutionalist Republican candidate for president whose T-shirt he happens to be wearing.
"I'll sing a new song about civilization," he sings at a volume that all but rattles the windows "and the palace of wisdom and the death of a nation," and by the time his 40-minute set is done, you're ready to stock up on gold, guns and ammo.
It's a small but attentive crowd tonight, about 20 people altogether. One member is fellow musician Ager, 29, a Philadelphia native who has been listening intently while nursing a drink at the bar.
A doctoral student in German who speaks off-the-cuff about languages, the year he spent in Austria as a Fulbright scholar and the dynamics of teaching, Ager comes across as a quiet, philosophical sort.
Then he takes the stage.
If music made Page an activist, it turns Ager into a showman — a scratchy-voiced storyteller with a twinkle in his eye.
"It's cool playing [on the bill] with Jordan tonight," says Ager, who has just met Page. "He's serious, and I'm kind of jokey. It adds some spice, know what I'm sayin'?"
With a few bold "chunks" on his acoustic guitar, he lays down a funky blues shuffle, and in a voice that echoes the sounds of joyful funk-folksters Jack Johnson and fellow Philadelphian G Love, he unleashes a string of songs on everything from hefty women and meaty foods ("Close To The Bone") to underage drinking parties ("The Indian") and the joys of surfing.