by Bernie Clark
“Come see me after the show if you have any questions for me, like, how to get dropped from your record label.”
”Wait, what? Did John get dropped from Captured Tracks?”
I looked over at Connor, fellow KRCX-mate, and Paul, fellow grade-A friend. Their confused looks mirrored my own.
With the magic of smartphone technology, I confirm it on the spot. It's true. John Pena’s band Heavenly Beat was recently dropped from the influential indie label Captured Tracks, which is based out of Brooklyn, the band’s hometown. This shock came mere months after we covered the Captured Tracks Label Showcase at the Larimer Lounge in October, at which Heavenly Beat performed.
So let’s backtrack to earlier in the day. To our excitement, Heavenly Beat accepts the invitation to play a lunchtime set in Regis’s main café. Due to technical difficulties and general under-resourcedness, the second half of the set falls apart, and the once captive audience trickles out the door without so much a backwards glance.
The obligation to maintain professionalism in the face of cold rejection is a hard pill to swallow. For me, this is a relatively new phenomenon. It is immensely frustrating. John is very gracious in response, and gives me a cassette tape of his new record - a gift that I don't necessarily feel worthy to receive. I am transfixed by the anachronism; a pool of my distorted reflection stares back in its shiny red surface. The album, titled Eucharist, reflects on a Catholic upbringing, among a host of other intimate topics. Exchanging this beautiful and guilt-ridden thing is a classic Catholic maneuver. I am humbled, and even though I’m tired by the 9:00 show time, I make it out to the venue (It’s a Tuesday, mind you).
“How many of you saw us in October?” John asks, addressing the dwindling crowd of about 20. About three-quarters of the room raise their hands. John laughs, “If we hadn’t played that show in October, it looks like there would've been a total of three people here... Shout out to Dustin.” This embittered comment makes me simultaneously laugh and cringe. Dustin Payseur is the front man of the band Beach Fossils, who headlined the Denver Captured Tracks showcase last October. John Pena is the former member of the band, which he left to pursue the music of Heavenly Beat, a far less ... popular venture. The cynicism carried throughout the performance with lines like “this next track is off the new record that, critically and commercially, did horribly.” It's funny, but it hurts me to hear these words.
The night culminates in a mess of mixed emotions. Of course I felt guilty; we hadn’t exactly set the most positive tone for the band’s day in Denver, but in spite of the frustrations, Heavenly Beat's performance connects with me as transcendentally passionate - a feeling that many artists eschew for trendiness or ‘aesthetic’.
Anticipating the night’s conclusion, we dance furiously amidst the despair, in kinship with the musicians who continue to play on as the Titanic sinks beneath the unforgiving North Atlantic. Eager to escape the Tuesday Blues, the band fades from the stage and the three of us wistfully slip out the door.