People don’t start trickling into Pedicab until midnight. Two of the three bands scheduled to perform this evening canceled: Micro Missile Attack a week before, and Colt of Us, the night of, reportedly after walking into the venue, making up some excuse about having to wake up early, and walking right back out. So the night becomes an evening with solo act Heavenly Junkie. Marc Contreras, the man behind the name, stumbles in red-eyed and late. If he’s nervous or upset it isn’t visible. He makes his way up to the stage and begins to set up a guitar, a flute, an assortment of pedals, vintage tape recorder, boards, a PSP, and a stack of CDs on sale for whatever.
Through the open garage door behind him, the audience can see a passenger train ambling past.
Singer-songwriter Contreras is best known as Dance Like Robots’ guitarist and a member of the break-dance crew Bazooka, but his solo project sounds nothing like the product of a shoe-gazing B-boy. It’s heavily saturated with pop melodies and notable Elliott Smith and Nick Drake influences, minus the self-loathing.
Contreras is not a shy guy. “The other band left because there was no one here but now you guys are all here,” he tells the swelling crowd. He’s an elusive but popular figure. If you Google him you won’t find him; he’s too cool or too old-school or whatever to develop a web presence.
Shortly after midnight Contreras opens with “What’s That Drippin,” introduced by a harmonica and backed up by a tape recording of a nagging hum that gracefully seeps out like sand.
Contreras’ style is a melodic affair of DIY recorded parts and sugary but unimpressive, bland vocals. The aching romantic value of his lyrics halfway makes up for it, though. In “Blow Me Away,” he sings, “There is a cloud that’s crying only for you/ There is a guy who’s dying slowly for you, only for you.”
His lyrics convey a positive perseverance that would border on cliché if it weren’t for its unexpected nakedness. “Anything Is Real (If You Want to Believe),” like most of his songs, leans on dramatic pauses for lyrical emphasis. He audibly slaps the strings when he changes chords. “Anything is real if you want to believe/ Nothing can be what you want it to be, look outside your cage and be free.”
He remains reserved on stage, shifting only to switch instruments. While he plays closer “Leave This Town” the audience looks on, endeared as if he were a puppy, softly repeating, “We’re just here for sound.”
When it’s over, Contreras fumbles over his equipment; the audience yells for an encore. Confused and surprised by the response, he looks to the crowd for an answer. He ends up playing what seems to be an improvisation, after which he waves his hand and jokingly cries out, “OK, DJ!” But there is no DJ — only Contreras, an audience, and the bartender. — Imelda Vergara