As you drive down Hanover Street you will first notice the huge and usually busy Bayside Bowl, yet as you look around your eye will catch another interesting sight, a large maroon mural with orange flowers. The building the mural lives on is the small Portland theater: The Apohadion. This theater is one large rectangle, you walk in through a curtain, pay a fee then continue into the room. An assortment of metal tables and chairs fill the space with the stage where a half moon size area sits in the top left corner of the space. On the wall directly parallel to the wall of the entrance is showing a movie. The film is projected on the wall and shows scenes from a 1980s jail break movie, Down by Law.
As people enter the area, the room becomes full of sounds of people unzipping their parkas, draping their clothing on their chairs, dragging other chairs to the table, ordering local beers and ciders at the bar, saying hello to friends who keep showing up at different times, and chatter. The chatter happens in a unique way, hearing all the conversations happening at once but not being able to make out a single word. The voices overlap each other and even within the singular conversation heads of the two individuals must lean towards one another and talk loud.
It is interesting to view people as they all partake in different forms of chatter. While some might go to a shoulder or some just yell and bellow in laughter, yet others keep their heads together until the conversation is over.
The lighting in the Apohadion was constantly dim with a warm hue of yellow. It did get darker when the band came on, but that before part the glow of the movie was a shade of blue that casted over the glazed eyeballs of those who were tired of yelling to keep the conversation going.
The thing about seating at a small venue to see a concert is that you spend too much time trying to get comfortable. It’s the easier way to look like you have something to do instead of pulling out your phone. The tables were cold to touch, almost that wet feeling when things are left outside in your car overnight. Chairs curved around the square table and the tables directly in front of the stage held even more seats in a row. Each group of people sitting with their forearms and legs touching each other as they awaited the show.
The band, the Meddy Bemps, is made up from former USM student Anthony Branca, who is the singer and lead guitarist, USM alumni Alex Ouellette and bassist Nick Thomas Brown. Branca and Ouellette met at USM as both of them were studying jazz studies and later met Brown in the Portland music scene. The band formed in 2018, and produced their first album, Something Else To Focus on in December 2020. Branca is originally from East Machias, and a neighboring town in the Washington country of Maine is: Meddy Bembs, which Branca thought would be the perfect name for this new musical endeavor.
The band formed when Branca started to write music that didn’t mesh or sound like any current music project he was working on, and started to reach out and create a new crew. The music is a mirage of alternative rock and punk rock, with elements of frenetic progressive sounds. “I’d say the influences are connected to Frank Zappa, early Greenday, Rush, YES, John Coltrane, Wayne Shorter and progressive rock,” Branca describes when putting his music form into words. He elaborates and says, “there are also degrees of jazz, since that’s what I went to school for, and that’s the music realm I’ve dived the deepest into, as well as for Alex (Ouellette) and Nick (Brown).”
“I love playing at the Apohadion, we’ve played there three times, last Thursday was the first time since COVID,” Branca explains. While the band mostly plays in Portland, they do occasionally go to Dover and Portsmouth and the Seacoast of New Hampshire. Currently the band is working on a new album and have no upcoming shows. Meddy Bembs can be found on all music streaming platforms and bandcamp.
As they played on stage the crowd got up in phases and stood in the very small section in front of the singer, banging their heads along with the music and doing a step to the right and left continuously. Others swayed and bent their knees, while most stayed in their seats and nodded their heads along.
The bassist was wearing a blue tee shirt that was mocked to be a band tee that read, “Darwin & the Finches”, a play off the scientist behind evolution. The other attire at the event was those in wool socks and thick boots, and layers of flannel and big sweaters. The chairs of those dancing held the scarves and jackets and the drinks on the tables slowly lost their liquids as the band played on.
While the band played the jail break movie had switched to a groovy and wavy set of abstract images, similar to the ink light shows that the Grateful Dead would have at their concerts. The shapes would morphe with each other and play next to the band. “I know the Apohadion has a large passion for films. We didn’t have anything to do with the film that was played, but they always do a good job with lighting and ambience,” said Branca.
Branca continues with, “it’s a great space with great people, they have always made us feel welcome, and the crowd is always filled with warm and receptive people.” Branca said, “ there are not a lot of spaces that cater to weird niches, or welcome to play or given a platform to perform, so those places are always greatly appreciated.”
After the show, the people gathered in small groups outside and let the theater regroup before the next performance. People were laughing in the streets and dancing to stay warm as it had gotten colder outside. Huddling into groups the joy of the unmasked share how much fun it is to be able to enjoy live music with friends again. Although small, the Apohadion holds a lot of special events from film to music and can be found at 107 Hanover St. Portland ME. 04101 and online at: theapohadiontheater.com.