The first time I saw Robbie Lindauer perform, he played Bruce Springsteen's "Born to Run" on the piano at an open mic. It was amazing — an all-time great open-mic moment, as far as I'm concerned. He pounded out the chords to the song as if his piano was a percussion instrument, more than doing justice to the high-energy Springsteen band at its '70s best.
His voice was perfectly suited to the tune. He didn't try to imitate the original, but he succeeded wildly in capturing the epic-adventure quality of a big, over-the-top Springsteen number. The entire performance came off as that of someone doing the thing that they do best. So it was a surprise to learn afterward that Robbie Lindauer doesn't consider himself a real piano player and that the whole thing was just kind of a lark. It had simply occurred to him that it would be funny to learn "Born to Run" on the piano and take it down to the open mic that night.
Lindauer's main gig is guitar player, songwriter and front man for the Ashland-based band The Stamps. The band's lineup tends to be in a constant state of flux. They originally played as a stripped-down three-piece band with electric guitar, bass and drums. Instead of a full kit, original drummer Mark Arinsburg played a percussion rig made up of a hi-hat and a cajon. The cajon is a plywood box that a drummer sits on top of and plays with his hands. Banging on one part of the box sounds like a bass drum, and banging on another part of it sounds like a snare.
The Stamps' current instrumental lineup includes a full drum kit and a second guitar. They have evolved into more of a traditional, full-sized rock band. Lindauer and bass player Joe Capezza have been the only constant members. Lindauer explains that changing the instrumentation around is one way to keep his material fresh. In a performance setting, players interact with one another musically. Adding a new band member alters the on-stage chemistry and encourages the songs — and the band — to evolve.
His own musical evolution began early. His father was a classical pianist and music teacher who stored his collection of music theory books on a shelf in Lindauer's bedroom. From an early age, he found that he enjoyed reading them.
"I was the kind of kid who read the dictionary," he says.
He eventually picked up the guitar and applied to it the kind of rigorous, academic study that one might expect from the child of a music teacher. Kids who took electric guitar lessons during the second half of the '80s were often trained to play scale exercises as fast as possible. Guitar magazines of the day held up players such as Joe Satriani and Steve Vai as examples of the ideal in technical proficiency. This was the guitar-playing path that the 16-year-old Lindauer was on until he started listening to Neil Young records and began to see music from a different perspective.
"What you really want to do when you play music is communicate," he says. "You're not communicating how fast your fingers are."
Neil Young is, in one sense, a notoriously unpolished guitar player and singer who, nonetheless, has been communicating through music very effectively with large audiences for nearly 50 years. Listening to him, Lindauer came to believe that there was a lot in music that was more important than technical sophistication.
"In the end," he says, "pop, rock, country, jazz "… it all comes down to rhythm."
The Stamps released its first record, "Jackson County Fair," in 2012 and have a second offering in the works that Lindauer says should be released in early summer.
The Stamps plays the fourth Friday of every month at Paddy Brannans Irish Pub, 23 2nd St., Ashland. The band plays this Friday, April 19, at McGrews Restaurant in O'Brien.
Jef Fretwell is a musician and freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.