Elephantbear’s Fly on the Wall

Elephantbear's lead singer, Mike Pederson's solo performance at Irises Cafe and Wine Bar

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Mike Pederson and fellow bassist from his group Elephantbear, George Mark

Walking into Irises Café and Wine Bar, it was not my intention to order dinner. It was not my intention to order a drink of any kind, well, maybe a glass of water. I hadn’t made the walk from the SUNY Plattsburgh campus all the way to Irises at 8pm that Thursday night to enjoy the ambience or to eavesdrop on some of the more interesting conversations of those enjoying a night at the bar. I had instead come to Irises that night to take in the guitar strums and vocals of the local band Elephantbear’s lead singer, Mike Pederson.

Apparently Pederson hadn’t gotten the memo saying that tonight’s dress was to be semi-formal to compliment the atmosphere of the venue. He dressed in a plaid flannel button-down shirt, a pair of well-worn blue jeans, and topped it all off with a very classic cabby hat. Although he was slightly underdressed compared to those in the dining room, Pederson had a sense of comfort about him which I would later find out was necessary to be able to sing with the same sense of comfort.

He set up his dinky corner of a stage area with amps, speakers, a nest of cords, and left only room for his microphone stand and a simple barstool on which he perched himself for the next 3 hours, save a few short breaks. He had brought a binder with him which housed approximately five hours worth of music and every song he knew. Due to the darker ambiance in the restaurant, Pederson didn’t have much light to work by. He was lucky that he knew most of the chords and words by heart because he only had a small wall sconce right behind his head and a pair of weak green and blue show lights which provided little to no additional lighting. The carpet was a dark wine red which absorbed a lot of the light as well, which also doesn’t help the singer/songwriter.

Pederson recognized the easy atmosphere if Irises and complimented it nicely by playing covers of Neil Young songs, some from the Wood Brothers, and a few of Elephantbear’s originals, among other classics. Pederson did well to fill the room with his easy voice, hitting crystal clear high notes without shattering wine glasses or driving deafened guests out, which is a definite possibility at Irises. He was not afraid of his vocals, which is a very important characteristic of a good performer. The crowd can sense a timid person at the microphone but if the singer is confident, the audience can get lost in the music and even forget that the performer is strumming away right there in the corner.

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Mike doing what he does best: singing, playing guitar, and having fun.

His solo performance that night was as good as they come. Some might avoid acoustic performances convinced that they wouldn’t fill out the song as much or as well as a full band performance would. Pederson, however, forces the listener to forget all about the missing drums and bass. His tapping foot and bobbing head gave the sensation of a big drum and his expert placement of note emphasis brings a ghost of a bass guitar into the performance.

Although I was specifically there to listen to Pederson, I constantly found myself in casual conversation with the overly-friendly bartender, my boyfriend who was sitting right next to me, or the dangerously drunk middle-aged woman next to me who kept insisting that my boyfriend and I were actually brother and sister. The atmosphere of the quiet Irises Café and Wine Bar, before Pederson began his 3-hour jaunt, was very up-tight and did not invite much conversation at all. But when he started to make a bit of noise and have fun with his songs, the rest of the place seemed to follow suit. Whether he is just a fly-on-the-wall performer in a small place like Irises or the lead singer of his band, Elephantbear, Mike Pederson delivers a very fun performance that opens people up and gets the friendly blood flowing.

Have you ever heard Mike Pederson perform?