Brick + Mortar turns Cornerstone into psychedelic world of avant-garde rock ‘n’ roll

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“It’s a dead moon, I’m the grim reaper,” claims frontman Brandon Asraf on “Dead Moon.” And, because life truly does imitate art, on Sunday he chose to sing the entire song while decked out in a Halloween costume store rendition of a grim reaper outfit.

This wasn’t the most over-the-top theatrics presented at the concert at Cornerstone Craft Beer & Live Music. It was, in fact, one of the milder creative decisions.

When playing live, the two-piece band turns into a three-piece, with Asraf and bandmate John Tacon joined by friend and artist Richie Brown. Together, they defy conventional ideas of a concert and instead choose to immerse the audience in their madness. For this reason, words can’t do a Brick + Mortar live show much justice. Simply calling it a “concert” undermines the elaborate efforts of the band to make their stage performance into a low-budget circus.

Said madness took many forms throughout the night. Each song had its own visuals projected behind the three band members, ranging from wilting flowers to shadow puppets to an original animation created for the song “Old Boy.” An outspoken advocate for social change, Asraf illustrated his distrust of the political system by projecting Illuminati-themed images, such as an eye inside of a triangle, while singing “Brighter Than The Sun.”

But the visuals were just one piece of the puzzle. It was the stunts that drove the audience crazy, and it was Brown who performed most of them. A huge yellow balloon with the words “Terrible Things” emblazoned on it was pulled out while the band played the song of the same name. Dozens of paper slips emerged when Brown popped it, falling to the ground for audience members to pick up. Each of them read a unique “nice thing.” One of them, for example, simply said, “A real nice nap.”

By far the most over-the-top aspect of the performance took place to the beat of “One Little Pill,” which called for Asraf to emerge in a pharmacist costume with Brown dressed up as a bottle of pills. He performed a dramatic monologue, pretending to pitch the pills out to the audience, before breaking into song. Brown meanwhile, taking advantage of the small, intimate venue, placed pill stickers on audience members’ foreheads.

Rather than overcompensating for the band’s small size, the bizarre and complex nature of Brick + Mortar’s live show becomes a tool for getting its message across. There were many times when Asraf preached his philosophy to the audience, criticizing mental health stigma, the United States government and society’s approach to homeless people. This shone through in the new song “Hate Thy Neighbor,” which denounces people who choose to hate what they do not understand.

Asraf and Tacon are completely independent and produce their own electronic samples, having left behind their record label days. This independence ensures that nothing about the band is performative. Asraf, Tacon and Brown may be fond of donning costumes and putting on low-budget performances of their songs — such as when Brown stripped down to boxers and nipple tassels, hopping around with a sign reading “Locked In A Cage” — but their sincerity grants these gimmicks a unique meaning.

Toward the end of the show, Asraf spoke briefly on the hardships of being independent, but said it was worth it. And we don’t have to wonder if that’s true — it was obvious in the excitement of the audience that Brick + Mortar has genuinely made an impact on its fans. Cornerstone was only half full by the time the band emerged after two openers, but those in attendance were excited enough for a full house crowd twice its size.

Brick + Mortar isn’t making conventional music for a conventional crowd, and it isn’t making music that will hit the top of the charts. But it doesn’t have to — it’s making music that is honest, and that matters to its audience.

Contact Alex Jiménez at [email protected].