This is not an easy gig, but over the course of the next 40 minutes, our man Swarthy's got people singing along, the kids are dancing, everybody's smiling, even the pre-teens have stopped chasing each other around momentarily. Now, I'd like to see Elliot Smith or PJ Harvey do that!
For Swarthy it seems easy. His tunes are memorable, simple gems, but his sunny, effusive presence is the star of the show. Bowing to address his baby-toothed converts, straining to re-animate the ageless "Twist and Shout," he basically delivers the perfect Tent-Rock set, part Lou Reed, part Steve from Blue's Clues.
Swarthy circulates within a musical co-op that includes the bands Crosley and the Stapletons. He opens their shows, Crosley backs him up, and when Bill Donabedian, drummer of Crosley, made his acoustic guitar debut at Allyn's two weeks ago, Swarthy was there, lending guitar and vocal support. Like a self appointed tour guide, it's through Swarthy that I was introduced to these people. "We need about 50 more guys like Swarthy," says Jody Stapleton.
"Running between the drops" is the prototypical Swarthy lyric: refreshingly naive, with a smile in the face of trouble. He performs this song with just a tambourine, enlisting the audience to echo his lines like a counselor at a camp for the attitudinally challenged, and for a moment I feel my own crust start to loosen. He's also got a love ballad called "Bad Knee" in which he begs, "Will you please tell the story of your bad knee to me?/How your church league soccer teammates stared, as they carried you off in a lawn chair." Funny stuff, until moments later when he asks, "What's a bad knee when the soul needs care?" I'm left wondering whether I'm supposed to be laughing or not.
CityBeat: Based on lyrics like "God the father made mother earth, and now this son feels so clay-like" and on your mystifyingly bright demeanor, I'm wondering if you'd say your spirituality influences your music?
Swarthy: Yes, definitely. In fact in another of my songs, "Rock Spazz," I go through the lines "If I could do all right, say all right, think all right, like I should, there I did, now I know," which is almost like a code of how I'd like to live my life. There was point in my life when I wasn't like that.
CB: Are you born again?
S: No, I'm not, but I do feel lucky to have been blessed in so many ways.
CB: A lot of your music strikes me as humorous. Please tell me you write with your "tongue in cheek."
S: Yes, very firmly so. But with "Bad Knee," I really mean what I sing. It's a raw nerve really. I had an ex-girlfriend who took me back after some time apart, and our tentative steps toward getting back together were a lot like taking a walk on a bad leg.
CB: Why do you go by Swarthy?
S: It's kinda stuck since high school. (Saturday Night Live's) Jon Lovitz as Michael Dukakis described his European ancestors as "little people, little swarthy people." But my name is Brian Love, and I found confusion on the parts of club owners who were mixing me up with Brian Lovely.
CB: Is your music your first priority?
S: I'd like for it to be, but I don't starve well, so, of course I have to do something to subsidize the music. If it could become the means by which I fed myself, that would be wonderful. Right now it's a passionate, passionate hobby. It's been a dream of mine since I was very young. One of the first things I can remember listening to was The Beatles' "Please, Please Me." So that, along with the nursery rhymes, is my musical DNA.
CB: When did you know that you'd want to pursue music?
S: Probably since high school, but it was more of a dream.
CB: Did you ever interview yourself while you were mowing the lawn?
S: No, but I've done a lot of lip-synching to mirrors. That hasn't quite stopped.
So if you owe your Grandma a hot night out on the town or if you just want to hear one of the most disarmingly earnest performers this side of Jonathan Richman, Swarthy will be in his element at the Mad Frog on Friday with Crosley, Pebbles Overflow, and the Stapletons. Get there early enough and he'll introduce you to everyone. ©