I turned to Fiona, Scott and Blake, the violinist, bass player and percussionist of the band Rock Plaza Central and asked the question: "So what did you guys think when Chris first came to you and said, 'guys I've got this great idea, let's make an album about steel horses'?"
They all laughed.
It was 2:30am and in the other room were various members of Sgt. Dunbar & The Hobo Banned, Big Frank's Corey Hough, and My Friend Peter, blasting away a Langhorne Slim tune, hootin and hollerin through big banjo choruses. This was the big party we'd been planning since the hobos told us that RPC would be coming southeast to Albany for July 19th. Here we were in the Kirk House, christened that night "The Railroad", being joyful with Rock Plaza Central.
The question about steel horses was the first time we had talked about Rock Plaza Central all night. Conversation to this point had covered a swath of topics from the Quebecois and the history of their desire for independence, to Andrew Bird and his Bowl of Fire, the secret society of ghosts, Magritte, and sprial dynamics.
The question made the room laugh. After a series of jokes I can't remember and probably a long hilarious story by Blake I would doubtful do justice to, Fiona said, "But seriously it just kind of happened without us realizing it." She went on to say something about the songs being written on stage and the story unfolding before the eager band.
Scott jumped in with his response to my question, nodding his head in sarcasm, "Okay. I am an excellent steel horse.... Are you fucking kidding me?"
"I was the last person to come on board," Fiona admitted.
Scott went on describing the band's less than enthusiastic initial response, "But then I realized, 'that's brilliant! what a brilliant allegory!'"
Throughout the night Fiona complemented the shear musicianship of her fellow band mates and we got to witness it first hand as members of the band each played songs from their individual musical endeavors.
The Valentine's show was the mood setter. The anticipation upstairs was contagious. A good number of Albanians turned out for the Thursday night bill headlined by RPC, with local bands Sgt. Dunbar and the Hobo Banned, Margan and the Red Lions, and My Friend Peter opening.
My Friend Peter started things off, playing an endearing set of longing songs to an attentive crowd. His nervousness was friendly and witty and his delivery polished, at one point even singing the first lines of an Otis Redding song without the help of a starting pitch or a chord on the guitar.
Margan and the Red Lions debuted an exquisite set of original indie jazz pop songs. They played maybe five or six songs and sounded extremely tight for it being their first public performance of this set of songs. They had me thinking of Andrew Bird and Cake with Margan's vocal and piano leading the way.
Next Sgt. Dunbar and the Hobo Banned took the stage. They rambled and clammored and strummed, horned, sawed, and drummed through a set of rawlicking indie folk songs. Their melancholly optimism, their melancholly joy, left the upstairs of Valentine's pulsing in anticipation.
So when Rock Plaza Central took the stage and started plucking the opening notes of "I Am an Excellent Steel Horse" the crowd welcomed them with such vocal exuberence that lead singer Chris Eaton was visibly astonished.
The entire upstairs seemed to sing "I am an Excellent Steel Horse!" in unison. This followed the same for "My Children Be Joyful!" and "I Want to Be a Shining Example hull hull!" and the show started to feel less like a rock or folk show and more like gospels and churches full of hymning believers.
Their affirming, reasurring choruses are full of joy and positivity but not too far beneath, one cannot miss the melancholly of wounded faith. Their sing alongs sing like idealistic realistic outbursts overlooking a deep inner disbelief.
Rock Plaza Central's closer, the show's climactic anthemic finale, "We've Got Alot to Be Glad For!" found an a cappela chorus of chanting singers both onstage and off repeating the line over and over as the moment kept building on.