Situated inconspicuously next to the bustling Games Room, Mother’s Wine Emporium is Rensselaer’s version of the Room of Requirement. Although it doesn’t boast much square footage, this versatile venue easily accommodates intense Guitar Hero battles, improv performances, and, most recently, an Open Mic event hosted by the Class of 2011. The chill of the fall air had followed me into the Rathskeller, but I immediately felt an inviting warmth as I stepped into the Emporium—not the warmth of a raging heater, but that of artistic talent accentuated by the quaint feel of a coffee shop, lively chatter, and an open stage. The delicate tapping of piano keys in the background and the neutral color scheme of the upholstery added to the ambience, conjuring a feeling of the comforts of constancy blended with the vicissitudes of life.
As the talk simmered down to soft whispers, Eric Stepanian of the Massachusetts-based acoustic power duo Stepanian welcomed the audience to the show and handed over the mic to the night’s first act, Jeff, who would perform three of his own songs. Thus began the metamorphosis of the mic from a simple piece of equipment into a channel for serenades, a slender outlet for the muse. Jeff’s songs featured meaningful lyrics on topics such as the liberating nature of pure, unrefined love, the bitterness of reality, and the tumultuous emotions experienced before displaying any affection for a beloved person (from his song, “Heavenly,” dedicated to his mother). Accompanied by the gentle strumming of his guitar, Jeff captivated the audience with his music, which was not only well-executed, but even more, his very own.
The claps trailed well into the start of the next act, The Electric Panda (who will also be performing at Revolution Hall), a fierce departure from the previous genre. Their songs seemed to emanate brainwaves and simulate the Doppler effect, characterized by powerful beats, synthesizers, and a hard rock style—it was a potpourri of varying amplitudes and frequencies, blending several genres like power rock, techno, and electronica/new age. The music had quite an amorphous and open-ended quality, as the songs were predominantly nonverbal in nature; however, this only highlighted their vividness.
The third act was a refreshing piano solo by a Rensselyric, who performed his own inspirational song that started off with whimsical phrases paired with deeper thoughts. His piece was followed by a punk band that played three unconventional songs, including an untitled tune, “My Name is Gray Cat” and “Moo Moo.” “My Name is Gray Cat” was the one that particularly caught everyone’s attention, as it was about a poor, cancer-stricken feline. The music seemed to document the cat’s miseries, emotional extremes, and the pain of its nine lives, metamorphosing the mic yet again to inject animal sentiment. The last note of “Moo Moo” marked the end of the Open Mic session of the night, soon to be succeeded by the spellbinding duo Stepanian.
Stepanian hails from the Boston area and has gained renown in the music industry with their harmonious, organic, and genuine sound; they have played at several sold-out shows and have opened for some popular acts like Jason Mraz and Maroon 5. Their live performance at Mother’s, featuring E. Stepanian on guitar/vocals and Michael Simon on bass/background vocals, had the audience in a trance, captivating them with their magnetic personalities and almost gravitational pull. Their songs were wrought with imagery, metaphors, and symbolism, describing words as “crashing to the floor like paper planes.” Eric and Michael both had lush voices, and their hands gave a life-like quality to each of their instruments, like Pygmalion to Galatea. Their colorful and light-hearted commentary in between pieces made it a truly interactive experience—comedic, yet thought-provoking (like how a simple tropical scene makes bottled water more expensive and whether or not the Nike logo was actually a smile that lingers).
Songs like “These Flowers” and “Electric” had a universally mesmerizing appeal, portraying the fever of sentiment, a gilded truth, and the reluctance of an individual to embrace love due to previous encounters with regret (“Electric”). “I’ve never been good at good morning / these were the words I swore I’d never say / but I hope you feel electric today” are some of the lyrics to “Electric,” the “words” referring to an expression of love and the eventual acknowledgement of his emotions. Another song was about a criminal in the ’30s and how, as a child, he had never given thought to what he would be tomorrow—perhaps a caveat masked in the form of a song. Stepanian ended the night on a high note, performing a sensational rendition of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean.” The magic of Stepanian lies in their simplicity, charisma, and ability to pluck the strings of the human heart with an almost supernatural precision.
The humble stage at Mother’s had been witness to an “awesome, electric mix of music,” said E. Stepanian, serving the audience an ethnic cuisine of melodies to satisfy all tastes. The mic had been the conduit of diversity, human souls, and raw emotion for both performer and listener, forging a symbiotic relationship between the wooden stage and the silhouettes in the distance. That is the beauty of Mother’s: all the excitement the world has to offer within the comforts of home.
Editor’s Note: For those of you who may be interested, Stepanian is offering free downloads of a few of their new songs online to see how far it goes—check out their webpage or social networking sites to spread the music!