I got caught up in long goodbyes and a huge slice of pizza pie last night at The Ballroom in Fremont. On the way to the show my date lost a crown on her tooth, and tore her hose on the ratty seats of my beat up old car. Timing isn’t my strong point and I thought j.wong was playing his CD Release show at 9 rather than 8. Alas, I walked in an ungracious guest +1 to j.wong manning a merch table instead of a microphone, and Mark Eitzel’s band in the middle of a sound check. Perfect.
As it turns out, though, Mark Eitzel's music is meant for (or maybe just about) the born late, befuddled, and haggard. I admit to knowing next to nothing about the man, save that he fronted a band people seem to love (American Music Club: Never Heard of Em’) and survived a heart attack a ways back. He took the stage between a trap kit drummer and an electric piano player in patchwork of thrift store accessories (fedora included) that made up his suit. He sang from the knees, bending ever so slightly and arching his back, belting out his melodramatic prose, his voice more than rounding out the missing parts of the rhythm section. He wasted no time getting to the one song of his I’d heard “I Love You But You're Dead” from his new album Don’t Be A Stranger. It was a rousing version, and the crowd seemed to appreciate his passion.
Mark Eitzel plays smeared lipstick lounge music about leather daddies, homeland security, the inherent dangers to costumed performers, and how to get fucked up enough to embarrass yourself: my kind of guy. Eitzel is not above using metaphors (“windows of the world”) and has an off-putting passion for injecting the word “love” into songs where it does not belong, but, like the love child of Tom Waits' piano songs and Jayne Mansfield's mascara tears, his writing effectively embodies the sprawl and chaos of his fault-lined Los Angeles homeland.
Despite his physical and metaphysical heart condition, Eitzel sang hard for over an hour—contorting his body around the microphone he’d place in the stand then immediately ripped out on the next lyric. Clutching his breast and singing at the ceiling to a crowd with all the makings of a men’s self-help meeting—save a few adoring women—he fought through songs about old lovers (how pitiful they become when you see through their bullshit), and people no one could love (including one woman who'd ripped off her blouse at a rock show, then simply been asked to leave). Between songs, he poured red wine from a plastic cup into his beard and told stories. He readily defended his douchebag fedora (I was wearing them first, not my fault it's an idiot icon now), stated “ugly men are so vain,” and graciously and unironically, thanked the sound man. After all the evenings tragedy, I left as sleepy and as somber as when I’d showed, but happy I was alive to show up at all.