Written by long-time friend, avid wrestling fan, and the only person I would let come to my first live performance, Gregory Quinn.
In 2007, all alone, Stephen MacDonald walked to the open mic stage of small café in Plymouth, Massachusetts. There were maybe eight people in attendance. It was his first performance.
The voice that debuted that night could be aptly described as “slightly above a whisper.” It was meek and unsure. His playing wasn’t much different, truth be told—his hand moved over the guitar strings with the confidence of a child approaching the front door of a haunted house. I was there that night; if you told me that this performance would be his last, I would not have argued.
It’s 2017 now, and Stephen MacDonald is releasing Local Divide, his seventh or eighth album, depending on how you choose to interpret his discography. He’s toured the country, shared the stage with his musical idols and oversaw the formation and dissolution of his band, The Okay Win. If the early listens of his new album are any indication, he shows no signs of slowing down creatively or of limiting his musical ambition. It is clear now that my initial conclusions of Steve’s career prospects were way off.
Because maybe what I saw in that diffident first performance wasn’t just nerves or timidity. Maybe it was also the first glimpses of his endlessly relatable art—his fascinating vulnerability and his gripping nakedness. Listening to Steve’s music is like being an ethical voyeur; we are invited to view from a slight distance shockingly intimate details of a person’s life. And it is infectious. I think that’s what I was experiencing way back when in that cafe. I just couldn’t understand it yet.
Steve’s music hasn’t changed much. It’s became louder, faster, more sophisticated. But never did it get less vulnerable. Steve’s former band and his increasing craftsmanship provided nuance and depth, but never could they cage that widely unhinged emotion of his. Nothing could. On Local Divide, Steve is on his own again, just like he was a decade ago. Totally exposed.