There was a childlike innocence to Joep Beving as he sauntered out onto the stage. He looked like a bashful scarecrow or hipster treant March 29th at Great American music hall. Standing around 6 and a half to 7, he joked, I could barely make out the face of the 42-year-old Dutchman with his head bowed and his wispy, almond hair and overwhelming beard hiding his lips. What I could see through the minimalist off-white stage lights and his shy demeanor was a pair of his soft, pearl grey eyes.
Not that the hipster giant needed to talk. His set, which consisted of four sets of three or four songs, was a rhythmic, melancholic glimpse into Beving’s existence. As his shoulders hunched and his head rocked from side to side, I felt the “existential experiment in communication” he was going for. Not my line, but his from the about section of his website. There was a sense of reaching not just from the notes being played, but from the silence before, during, and after his songs. One realized the creaking of his splintered chair colliding between the sometimes gentle, sometimes pounding of the keys, was all a part of his spell. If at times he coughed — he noted to us that he was, in fact, sick — or there was a slip of the finger on a note, that spontaneous error became a part of the old song, ultimately creating a new one altogether.
One of the most beautiful and inspiring aspects of that night was the reminder that simplicity— here in the form of just a man and in his piano — can be the best vehicle for staying present and existing in the music if one allows themselves to do so.
Joep did chat a bit during his hour or so long set. He talked about his current residence in Amsterdam, which got a steady round of applause, inciting a stoner joke.
“I was a huge pothead, but not so much anymore,” He chided. “But I always appreciate the applause.”
Beving also seemed to sense that everyone was a little unsure how to handle themselves in such a classically formal environment.
“So I’ll do a few,” Beving explained. “Maybe three, maybe four, I’m not sure you know, but then you guys can clap…if you want to.”
He grinned at us and we returned with another round of laughter and cheers.
Beving was quick with a turn of phrase or joke, but could just as quickly steer into a deeply introspective, vulnerable place, obviously uncomfortable with the responsibility of the showman with his mumbling and hair pulling. Yet, he seemed to understand his semi-poised obligation as the performer with a begrudgingly coy attitude, knowing full well that to have the audience truly connect, he couldn’t just rely on his talent and obvious skill. He had to crack himself open and not just let his composition overwhelm the room.
“This album…uh…I forget the name…” Beving stammered, triggering another round of sympathetic laughter, “Solipsism. That’s it. Anyways, this album came from a very dark time in my life. A time where all I wanted to do was communicate, connect to the world and the people in it, but my soul and my body just didn’t know how.”
He paused, wrung his beard, and tapped at a few keys as if reminding himself where he was by their sound.
“A friend of mine died in a freak car accident around that time.”
Another pause, this time with his hands motionless on the keys. Then, he looked at us.
“The illusion of this grand ocean of time is funny because it is, not for us. We think it is, but it isn’t. We show up, reside, and then we’re ushered out against our will, that force indifferent to where we were in our lives. I was hit with that truth quite hard, but it reminded me that we only get so many chances to create something great.” He arched his back and prepared to play.
“I just hope I did.”
If I can speak for everyone there that night, you did Joep. You truly did.
Photo courtesy of Sacks & Co.