Ed Schrader’s Music Beat is a project with many personalities. The duo of vocalist Ed Schrader and bassist Devlin Rice could be described as offbeat, ridiculous garage punk. But any descriptor overlooks nuances in their catalog like cinematic balladry of “Tom” and “Air Show.” Or the folk-like story-telling of their 2018 album Riddles. Riddles also heavily features frenetic electronics, mixed with unbridled punk, and experimental freak pop. Songs can be simultaneously explosive, contemplative, realist, and absurd. It’s never been easy to pin this group down.
So while the live execution of these tunes forgoes some of the musical nuances, Friday’s performance at the Pie Shop was freakishly energetic, silly, gritty, and relentlessly entertaining.
The show was part of a small, 5-city tour featuring openers and fellow Baltimorean Param Anand Singh, who’s noisy rock was a backdrop for his bold and wry poetry. The show featured local bands at every stop. In the case of the DC’s gig, this was the lovable rock quartet BRNDA and Erotic Thrillers, a brash and fun new pop-rock project from members of distinguished DC acts Beauty Pill, and E.D. Sedgwick.
Because this mini-tour was outside of an album cycle, the stakes are naturally a little lower, and the band was given some room to try new things out. In this case, it meant bringing on a drummer.
For this mini-tour, Ed and Devlin experimented with adding a drummer, Dave Jacober, to their duo. Traditionally ESMB shows are stubbornly minimal; consisting only of Devlin’s bass, sprawling pedal board, Ed’s voice and sprawling personality. Live drumming was a strong addition to the set though sacrificing some of the electronic details of the album. This was not a disappointment, but a sign of a band willing to commit to multiple personalities in live and recording settings.
But the core of the Ed Schrader show is Ed Schrader. His energy never wavers, frantically hopping between songs, sounds, and characters.
He referred to every other song in the set as a dance number, clearly trying to engage the cozy, but fervent audience. Ed refuses to allow a dull moment during his shows. He flails around the stage, dancing like he’s got twice as much room as does, spinning and twisting himself into his own body, and outstretching his expressive arms like they are an extension of the song. He fills lulls in the set or moments of technical difficulty with off-the-cuff sing-alongs. This night, The Pie Shop crowd was treated to his rendition of Man of La Mancha,” Elvis’ “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” a 5 second of an accidental Kiss cover, and the Lion King’s “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” (in a vivid homage to Elton John).
These lovable antics are the distinguishing factor solidifying ESMB’s loyal fan base and turning him into a legendary figure in underground music.
Interestingly, he tweeted the day after the DC shows “holly crap these shows have been off the rails- holly crap. I think its finally happening! Only took me 25 years!” [Tweet]
ESMB has been a music project with a strong DIY ethos for 10 years. Ed and Devil have toiled in other projects long before that. Despite always throwing their whole selves into a live show, it apparently took audiences a little longer to catch up.
In that time, ESMB has matured in their recording process. Riddles is their most complete work and Ed has stretched his legs as a songwriter and allowed for more experimentation and a wider variety of sound.
However, this artistic maturity, increased media attention, and growing fan base has not come at the sacrifice of his wild and reckless live performances. Songs like “Rust” off Riddles (a call-back to peak freak-punk Schrader) and “Sermon” a 7 year old raucous anthem, were performed with the gusto of fresh and unforgiving DIY band in a sweaty Baltimore basement.
It’s clear that no amount of commercial success or artist growth will strip Ed Schrader of his wild, punk mentality, nor should it. The Pie Shop crowd was enamored with his spastic joy and grateful attitude.
As he took the stage, Ed jokingly yelled “DC let’s make Friday night feel like a Saturday night!” ...as if every ESMB show for the past 10 years hasn’t felt like the best Saturday night.