Concert Review: Mercy Music

Backstage Bar & Billiards, Feb. 23

An unplugged acoustic show in a loud bar is an act of masochism for the best singer-songwriter. Bottles clanking. Laughter of indifferent drinkers. An idiot requesting “Freebird.” It’s baffling why people, audience included, subject themselves to the trauma. But Brendan Scholz, who strums solo under the name Mercy Music, relishes merciless self-laceration. His decision to strip down his music and play hyper-melodic, Graham Parker-esque pub-rock in a new Fremont watering hole/live music venue wasn’t surprising. Nor was the Deadhand frontman’s last-sec preference to go electric, plugging a Fender Telecaster into an amp. It was a throwback, referencing Billy Bragg’s 1987 Back to Basics and Parker’s 1989 Live! Alone in America with their one-man-and-a-guitar approach. Scholz never let his aggressive, more-punk-than-folk picking drown his voice, belting out lyrics so the sound system popped. Lean and leather-jacketed, he opened with the charging “Undone,” a chronicle of anger’s romantic corrosion (These words cut/But I bleed) that muted the chatter and drew a crowd. I’ll say of Scholz what critic Greil Marcus said of Kurt Cobain (while paraphrasing the Coasters): This is rock ’n’ roll. Mercy Music songs—“Fine,” “With Love”—roil with the truth and drama that only an artist with huge talent and bigger wounds can generate. Scholz’s sole misstep was to indulge in archeology, unearthing a cover of Paul Westerberg’s “It’s a Wonderful Lie,” which nobody recognized. But in it, Scholz offered a clue to his motivations: What am I doin’?/I ain’t in my youth/I’m past my prime/Or was that just a pose? Playing a chewed-up underdog at 26, Scholz has too much time to not triumph. ★★★☆&#9734

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