"What's wrong with this guy? Why doesn't he, like, you know, play something?"
"I don't know. Those guys onstage with him just sit there. They don't play their instruments at all."
"I don't get it."
So goes the conversation between two patrons at the Zombie Lounge. The fella, a tatted-up greaser type who probably eats his Wheaties drenched in Pabst instead of milk. The chica, a slender shrew who hides her farcical San Diego State ex-sorority girl attitude under makeup so thick, if it rained, half her face would slide right off.
What's got their tighty-whiteys in a bunch is Nick Grosvenor's first live performance. In CityBeat's annual "Great Demo Review," his demo fell into the hands of three writers, all of whom e-mailed the editor to say, "Man, this is some great stuff/shit/music." So he was invited to play the party to celebrate our special music issue, an invite that was received with a bit of shock and more than a touch of reserve.
Calling himself Wilderness Survival, Grosvenor goes on late, and in between songs he rambles on about how this performance is "history-making." Adding to the confusion, he has three friends on stage with him, all in matching tuxedos. And they just sit there, instruments in hand but never contributing a note.
At the end of the beautiful and haunting ballad, "Tell Her I'm Over It," Grosvenor rises, violently smashes his acoustic guitar against the Lounge's brick wall and storms out.
People shut up and pay attention, but history has passed them by on its way through the front door.
"I'm just trying to be fun and gimmicky," explains Grosvenor when reminded of the performance. "The joke's on the audience. I'm just another fucking kid bitching about how his chick dumped him, so it's hard to impress people when you cruise up with an acoustic guitar."
This statement is fitting of Grosvenor. He presents himself as a confident and self-appreciative singer-songwriter, and his debut, Stereotypes and Types of Stereos, affirms this despite the melancholy of songs like, "A Cowboy Leaves His Mistress," and "The Ship is Sinking." Listening, one is reminded of acoustic Eels, or a more reticent Ricky Nelson with an assist from Pro-Tools.
But he seems unsure of himself as a live performer. He is that rare and penitent breed of singer who can't imagine how an audience wouldn't give just as much back as he gives them.
Blood for blood. Tears for tears.
"I just don't want to get caught up in the scene, doing one show after another," he says. Grosvenor fears that doing so will affect his musical output, and that he'll always feel more comfortable in a more esoteric and intimate setting among friends. But he seems willing and able to give anything a shot.
"I just trust that stuff works out, and I just let things flow subconsciously."
Don't let him pass you by.Wilderness Survival plays and perplexes at Lestat's, 3343 Adams Ave., 9 p.m. on June 11. Free. All ages.