"Would you like some coffee, love?"
Ed Harcourt is on the phone with his manager when he greets me amidst unassembled gear and tangled wires at CafÃ© du Nord Monday, but it still doesn't stop him from offering me a kiss on the cheek and a cup of joe offer. Politely, I decline and wait for him to finish. It's been frenzied since Harcourt and his backing band arrive at the San Francisco venue - the sound guy is seemingly way stoned, and some of the wires combusted en route to merit an emergency Radio Shack run. Harcourt takes a deep breath before we sit down in the green room to discuss getting inked, his sweet sideburns, and the album The Beautiful Lie, of which he is on a mini power tour.
"I love pop, I love fucking underground weird stuff," says Harcourt as his drummer starts sound check, a thin wall separating him and us. "I get bored of one thing really fast, and I like approaching music and most everything in a curious way; I think I get more out that way."
"But really, why would anyone listen to my musical whinings?" he muses with a grin.
The Beautiful Lie is his masterpiece from two years ago seeing the light in the States just now, a record full to the brim of cinematic escapes and forthright rock anthems. Harcourt describes the layout of the record as "schizophrenic" and when he asked one of his friends for feedback on it, the answer was surprisingly candid.
"He said, 'It's like one half anthem-like, one half anti-social," Harcourt says with a laugh. "And I thought, 'Perfect.' I was working on two albums at the time with both different feels, and [this album] is a blend of both of those sounds."
Harcourt's open nature and heart translate to both stage and in person. Mid-song during his set, he jokes about bearing witness to a Girls Gone Wild bus at his hotel, and "some of these [people] had butts like shelves...you know, where you could just set a drink on." When I ask him my ever-imposing question about his side burns in the green room, he takes it with a shred of amusement.
"Oh really? Thank you," he says before mock yelling at the drummer through the wall to shut up. "I've had them ever since I was 18. But I am shaving off this caterpillar [points to his mustache] next week. I realized my wife will kiss me more." He then pulls up his pinstripe sleeves to display some stellar tattoo work on his forearms and biceps. We compare ink jobs before our time is cut short; he has to do that pesky sound check too.
The hard work pays off, as the show later that night is near impeccable, minus a short delay in initially starting. Ballad "Rain On The Pretty Ones" is a strikingly crisp and soft-hearted song live, the timeless feel of love forlorn punctuated with Harcourt's pangs of piano. And while the show overall emits a more hushed and gentle sound with tracks like "Until Tomorrow Then," which provides a platform for a lounge feel, Harcourt still shows that he can rock with the best of them with tunes like "Alligator Boy," electric guitar wails to no end.
"We're gonna be on the Tonight Show on Friday," he says to the crowd, who applaud approvingly. But even as he announces this monumental occasion to happen to him and his band, he still looks lovingly at the audience and smiles his appreciation. It's been a long road, yes, but he's finally making it.
Photos by Jenz