Erin Regan Brings Down the Lights Thursday Night
Last night at Sidewalk Erin Regan sat quiet, composed and mysterious, her face partly obscured behind auburn bangs as she played a brooding, often haunting solo acoustic set to a hushed, avid crowd who knew her songs and made a lot of requests. Regan seems to fly pretty much under the radar: if she plays other venues, they don’t publicize it (hardly an uncommon predicament for a New York songwriter). If she hadn’t told the audience that she was bleeding all over her fretboard – she’d cut her finger before the show – no one would have noticed, other than the fact that she stuck to her slower, less musically complicated material.
Regan is an eclectically competent acoustic guitarist and an unselfconsciously affecting, often riveting singer, this time channeling understated longing and brooding resignation – although when she isn’t injured, she can be a lot more animated. As strong a tunesmith and singer as she is, it’s her bleak, vivid narratives that distinguish her from the legions of sad girls with acoustic guitars. She opened with a hypnotic waltz, its glum protagonist hearing nothing as she watches her mom switching the stations on the car radio. She writes her name in the frost on the window glass and wonders if her mom ever felt as helpless as she does. She lives in Brooklyn, used to play music but “mostly just writes short stories…through the dark and the sunset and the blankets I wonder, if I jumped off a bridge would I swim like a fish or go under?”
Regan stuck with slow waltz time for much of the show. One drew a portrait of neighborly kindness, or at least an attempt at it: one leaves some candy for the other, who ultimately is too depressed to eat it. Another had a distantly torchy, 1930s feel: “Will I take my love to the grave or will I give it all away?” Regan pondered. She went into folk noir for another one, grimly watching the days passing by, and then took the mood into dark, minor-key Appalachian territory. Later on, her voice soared with an unexpected, plaintive crescendo at the end of a Britfolk-tinged number that could have been an Amanada Thorpe song.
The big hit with the crowd was Mom’s Car, a request, which sounds something like the Velvets’ Sunday Morning at halfspeed, a crushing portrait of clinical depression, its downcast narrator asking and eventually imploring for one more ride with the guy who’s just going to go back to his girlfriend afterward. Regan wrapped up the set with the catchiest, most lively and retro song of the night, which might have been a cautionary tale directed at a would-be suicide: the pavement isn’t soft, she warns the guy who’s grown out of sorts after being “exiled to the Upper East Side.” The stage Regan was playing being what it is, the vocals weren’t always high enough in the mix to catch all the lyrics. Yet that might have actually worked in her favor as it drew the crowd in and made them listen. Whatever the venue, she’s always worth seeing – and she gets extra props this time for playing through the blood.