Sunday, October 27, 2013

Eggplant Heroes

--> Last night I ambled over to TheAcoustic Cafe in downtown Eau Claire to get me an Eggplant Heroes fix. If you're into acoustic music with a strong folk influence and are—like me—lyrics-driven, Eggplant Heroes is the band for you. The band was launched by Max Garland, Duffy Duyfhuizen, Joel Pace (pronounced: Patch-A) and Olaf Lind, but has since added other musicians including Dan Zerr on bass, Lucas Fisher on electric guitar and, less frequently of late, Caleb Horne on mandolin.

I'm as much about the personality of the band as the music. It doesn't matter how accomplished the musician, if I'm not able to catch a glimpse of the person behind the instrument I'm not interested. I'm sure music-purists would call me a philistine, but if I'm going out to see live music, it's as much about the musicians as the music. If I want music for music's sake, I'll plug into my iPod. So let me tell you a little about these men.

Duffy Duyfhuizen is the Associate Dean in UW-Eau Claire's College of Arts and Sciences. If you've been reading this blog, you'll also recognize him as the rhythm guitar player for David Jones and The Jones Tones. He sings more with Eggplant, occasionally plays his harmonica and has a seemingly unending repertoire of amazing songs.

Joel Pace was playing a gig with his alternate band, Irie Sol, and so was not present last night, but his voice-as-instrument is breathtaking and he also plays the trumpet and various percussives. Joel is a professor in the literature department at UW-Eau Claire and, I've heard tell, has a Piped Piper-like effect on his students. If you view this brief Youtube clip of him describing one of his classes I think you'll understand why.

Max Garland is, again, a professor at UWEC. And he's Wisconsin's Poet Laureate. No kidding. Max plays lead guitar, writes songs and sings. Max will also, appropriately, play Bob Dylan in this year's Fright Night (I'll be writing about this event).

Olaf Lind is a classically trained Violin player, lived in London as a child and studied at Michigan's prestigious Interlochen Center For The Arts. He's the quiet one, unassuming with eyes downcast, standing in the corner, but when he solos it's easy to picture him as that quintessential orchestral violinist in a black tuxedo letting loose on Mozart, hair flying, bow dancing over the strings, unerringly finding the right note. Sometimes I'm surprised by tears by the sweetness of the notes coaxed out of his instrument. He also plays the electric mandolin.

It's important to know about these men, because it is obvious that their passions influenced both their their music and their careers as illustrated in the songs on their CD titled, After This Time. The fourth track on the CD is Orphan Child and Duffy sings a passage from Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre, seamlessly transforming Bronte's words into a traditional folk song, all atmospheric and melancholic. In Nick's Postscript, the sixth track, Joel sings from Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, full of hope and energy.

While Duffy and Joel's focus in these two songs is to celebrate the work of other great writers, Max uses his word-talent to paint emotion-pictures: “Snow on the rooftop/snow in my soul/snow in my heart about an inch or so/ can't build much of a man out of snow/can't stop a woman/when she's ready to go.”

Other songs on the CD include, Duffy's Sometimes, a sweet love song: “But I know in the morning/ the sun is going to rise/and this old world keeps right on turning/every time I look into your eyes.” And Joel's Via Canzone about his father's homeland, “14 hours a day mending shoes/all across the salty seas/not a life we choose/sewing and polishing memories.”

This CD is packed with beautiful, haunting and sometimes funny music. You can hear After This Time in its entirety on the Eggplant Heroes' website.

Last night The Eggplant Heroes played a mix of originals, standards and covers. Max likes songs gently reminiscent of his childhood faith and The Heroes graced us with I Saw The Light, This Little Light of Mine, Jesus On The Mainline, and I'll Fly Away. Max also recited one of his poems, Memories of Pentecost, about his Uncle John an old time Southern Preacher and followed up with Walking in Jerusalem, (Just Like John).

Dan Zerr plays bass and sang Tom Waits' Jersey Girl, Lyle Lovett's Flyswatter Blues, and Natalie Merchant's Homeland. Dan has a great voice and can sing both a deep bass and a high falsetto (though not at the same time). He's also a songwriter and I was a bit disappointed that I didn't hear his Disappearing Middle-Class Blues.

Halfway through the gig, Luke Fischer showed up with his electric guitar. This is one of the cool things about the band: the make-up of the band changes from gig to gig, depending on the members' availability. Each member adds their own brand of texture and depth, so when a member or two isn't there, the band isn't incomplete, just different.

Luke Fischer is a heck of a guitar player and I once heard Max say he's still looking for a song Luke can't play. Luke and Olaf jammed on Hendrix's Little Wing, all lonely and whimsical and Olaf's mandolin was wonderfully Hendrix-like. When Dan traded his bass for a guitar to play Orlean's Reach A Little Bit Higher Luke played the bass-line on his electric guitar. Duffy sang Pat Donahue's Drowning In You and their music was so full, so soulful that I felt like I was drowning in it. They also played Dylan, The Band, John Prine, Hal David, Old Crow Medicine Show, John Hiatt and, of course, some of their originals.

As they played I looked around the room. I saw college students, retirees and families—some with teens and some with tots—and I was struck by the inclusiveness of this venue and of this band. Like I said, I like bands with personality, bands whose musicians allow us a glimpse of who they are. Bands are like living organisms and each member adds to the dynamic of the whole. It shows not just in the music, but how they interact with each other. The words that best describe this band, this organism are: Talent; Respect; Communication; Relationship.

They play at the Acoustic on the last Saturday of each month. While you never know who will show up, you can be sure the music will be wonderful.


  1. That was a fantastic review of this talented group! I'[ll be sure to show up at their next gig.