The Verve Pipe frontman has covered a lot of ground, from rock stardom to a solo singer-songwriter who’s turned house concerts into an art form. He plays Grand Rapids’ Wealthy Theatre with a stellar band on Friday.
Singer Brian Vander Ark has experienced the gamut of life as a rocker.
As the frontman for Michigan’s platinum-selling alt-rock band The Verve Pipe in the 1990s, Vander Ark endured the euphoric highs and brutal lows of the fickle record business, the adulation of awed fans and the taxing road-warrior grind of playing 200 gigs a year.
Eventually reinventing himself for a solo career that’s produced several studio albums, the East Grand Rapids-based singer-songwriter settled down, focused on raising a family, and mapped out a brilliant musical strategy of playing house concerts across the country – an annual “Lawn Chairs and Living Rooms” tour that will have him perform 60-plus intimate concerts this summer.
He characterizes it as “an amazing experience,” partly because he still gets to turn up the volume and pound out rock songs every so often with The Verve Pipe (which also has reinvented itself in a way with side projects involving children’s songs and shows).
“When I go out once a month and get to put on my rock star pants, and do the splits and that kind of thing, it’s a lot of fun,” Vander Ark concedes. “Just to get the bombast of the bass and the drums on occasion, too, is really uplifting as well, but I couldn’t do it every night. It doesn’t interest me. … I enjoy it much more now than I did years ago when we were doing it every single night.”
That’s also what makes his upcoming show at Grand Rapids’ Wealthy Theatre on Friday night a truly special affair: The concert will assemble a unique bunch of musicians and singers, including Vander Ark’s wife, Americana singer-songwriter Lux Land, the Nashville indie-folk/pop duo of Channing & Quinn, The Verve Pipe’s Lou Musa and Randy Sly, plus John Connors, Brad Phillips and Scott Stefanski.
A SPECTACULAR NIGHT REVISITED
It reprises the group’s “variety show” about a month ago at the Midland Center for the Arts, which produced some riveting performances and an impressive live recording.
“It was a spectacular night,” Vander Ark says of that show, which also featured songs by Land and Channing & Quinn. “I said, ‘I want to take this back home to Grand Rapids.’ I haven’t played a public show here in the longest time.”
So, on Friday, Vander Ark and his fans will embrace songs new and old, tunes going as far back as The Verve Pipe’s 1993 “Pop Smear” album.
The singer gave Grand Rapids a little preview of that concert on Local Spins Live this week, delivering an acoustic rendition of his song, “Survival,” with the help of Channing & Quinn (on harmony vocals and banjo) on News Talk 1340 AM (WJRW). You can listen to a podcast of the show here and watch a video below.
It’s the sort of cozy performance that gives Vander Ark, now in his mid-40s, the most joy these days. “It really has to do with us playing together and feeling each other’s vibe and … while I’m singing that, how nice it sounds to hear the banjo and hear Channing’s voice and the shaker.”
HOUSE CONCERT NIRVANA
It’s also the reason Vander Ark relishes those house concerts he’s turned into an art form and a successful business.
“There’s no wall between the performer and audience. You’re right there, it’s intimate,” he reasons. “People are sitting and listening to the music. Where you go to a bar, people are playing pool or yapping or whatever; they don’t care about anything but (the hit song) ‘The Freshmen.’ Plus (at house concerts), they feed you, they offer to let you stay. It’s like playing for your family.”
For Vander Ark, who recently took part in a Failure-Lab seminar with a diverse set of professionals presenting tales of risk-taking and failure, the re-setting of his career has proved to be “a tremendous way to make a living. Having to go through that failure of (The Verve Pipe’s) follow-up album to ‘Villains,’ that’s what sent me in that direction. It’s been awesome.”
Of course, that doesn’t mean any fewer requests for performing the aforementioned “The Freshmen,” the 1996 Top 10 hit that sent The Verve Pipe to stardom.
“I don’t get tired of playing it,” Vander Ark insists, “because I know it’s a point in the show where there’s some people looking forward to it.”
Tickets for Friday’s full-band concert at Wealthy Theatre, 1130 Wealthy St. SE, are $20 ($17 for Grand Rapids Community Media Center members) and are available online here. The show begins at 8 p.m.; doors open at 7 p.m.
For more about Vander Ark, visit his official website, which also has links to a blog that provides tips to musicians.
Email John Sinkevics at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright 2013, Spins on Music
A veteran journalist and former music writer for The Grand Rapids Press, John Sinkevics is editor and publisher of LocalSpins.com, profiling regional artists and commenting on West Michigan's music scene. He hosts "Local Spins Live" on News Talk 1340 AM in Grand Rapids at 11 a.m. Wednesdays, with a preview at 9:30 a.m. Wednesdays on WLAV-FM (96.9). He also hosts the hour-long "Local Spins on WYCE" at 11 a.m. Fridays on WYCE-FM (88.1).
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