I love the Mercury Lounge. The performance area, not the bar area. The bar area is the dive bar equivalent of a local train during rush hour, where everybody's all shoulders and elbows and if you ever do find a space to call your own, somebody's either leaning over your back to order a drink or pushing himself between you and whoever you're with like Germany looking for lebensraum.
The performance space is pretty much the dream black box venue, a room where no matter how far from the stage you are, you still feel like you can reach out and touch the musicians. Like the Continental; like Sin-é -- except that it's still here.
When Matt goes on, the place has thinned out from the previous show. There's a set list at his feet which I mistake for his, until I manage to translate the upside-down writing into song titles that I don't know. He plays some of the songs that I've heard from him this past week, as well as a couple of new ones and a cover from a Canadian friend of his. It's good, but not as memorable as the one he did at 11th Street, a song called February Snows by Al Tuck, lead singer of the memorably named Al Tuck and No Action. He does Tall Trees and dedicates it to Mike Ferrio; talks back and forth with Abe about what he should sing next; tells about meeting Bill Cosby at Duane Reade a few hours ago, where Coz was buying (you don't want to know). It's very loose and laid back, like a show at the Living Room.
In between songs, Matt tells the story of the first time he and El Torpedo played New York, which was also in the Mercury Lounge.
- We drive down all the way from Halifax, in our shitty van, and we pulled up, went “Oh this place looks cool,” did our sound check and we came back, and this room was just jammed. And we were like, “Aw man, right on, first trip to New York, it’s gonna be awesome.” Like bitchin’, yknow? And we didn’t really know the New York way of things, where people leave after shows all the time. Back home people stay at a show and never leave till they pass out. So we come on and the place is empty, I mean the only people there are the roadies from the Cyrus show, taking equipment out, and there are like two other people in the audience -- I think Abe was here and that was it. And we were all bummed out and going “Holy shit, we have to drive all the way back to Halifax after this.” So anyways, we left, and this woman -- she’s working tonight at the door -- she stops me and she says, “Wait a minute, you haven’t been paid,” and I’m like, oh okay, at least we get some cash money. And she handed me like six US dollars. Six bucks. One for each of us. And that was our first New York gig.
And he sings some more, and then it's the last few minutes of the last show, and it's hard to believe, the time has gone by so quickly. Like a song you don't want to end. You hear the first verse, and you know it so well you can count the seconds till the last note, but if you do that, then you'll miss the song itself, so you have to give in to the moment, ride the wave, let the words and the notes fill you up like a breath you've never taken before, and make each moment an eternal chime, like the song is a flicking fingernail and you're the tuning fork, and even when the sound that you can hear finally comes to an end, there's another sound, a sound beneath the silence, a sound that never dies, a sound you carry inside you like a heartbeat, and it lives forever like a great picture . . .