Stepping through the door into Weirdo Records can drop an unprepared visitor right into the middle of conversation about obscure synthesizers, upcoming noise shows, or ’70s pop from Cambodia. The Central Square space is tiny — barely 100 square feet — with shelves full of records, CDs, and even VHS tapes that leave just a few feet of standing space between customers.
Presiding over the shop, perched at a computer behind the back desk, is owner Angela Sawyer. One recent afternoon, a young couple browsed, asking about what had happened to early psych stars the 13th Floor Elevators, while a third customer wondered about Brazilian guitar fuzz bands. Sawyer recommended the recent documentary on Elevators frontman Roky Erikson and discussed “fish bowl bands” that seem built to re-create ultra-specific sounds in rock history. One customer interrupted her. “Whoa, there’s a band called Los Yetis? I have to get this!” He added it to an armful of goods.
Sawyer has been a consummate record-store clerk in Boston for more than 20 years, working the register at beloved wax emporiums like In Your Ear, Twisted Village, Cheap-O Records, Looney Tunes, Pipeline, and Record Hog. She began running Weirdo as an online business out of her house in 2007, inviting those obsessed with obscure music into the fold (and often into her bedroom, which served as a showroom with official office hours). A little over a year later, she expanded to a true storefront.
Its size belies its importance. Weirdo carries only about 10,000 titles, organized on shelves with labels like “Easy Listening Outsider Square,” “Blues Roots and Pre-War,” “Funny Shaped Stuff,” and, simply, “Sun Ra.” It’s a carefully curated musical hub full of bizarre records, a welcoming place for the city’s music hunters and cozy, weekly live performances.
This weekend, her storefront is celebrating its fourth anniversary with a gonzo party at O’Brien’s Pub. In true Weirdo form, the show will bring together a wild variety of bands (Baltimore’s Horse Lords, Boston noise-punks Guerilla Toss, Funeral Cone, and the free improv of Deleuzer). Even truer to Weirdo are the friendships the bill represents.
“I’m really grateful to people around town who’ve made things work,” says Sawyer. “Around the country, Boston has a superficial reputation for people who are cold and grumpy. That’s fine — that’s why I moved here! But once you get down to people who have a common narrow interest like avant-garde music, it’s really friendly. I don’t care if you’ve got a third arm growing out of your head — if you like this music, we’re friends. That’s all it takes.”
Longtime customer Michael Rosenstein first began shopping with Sawyer in the ’90s when she was at Twisted Village. With a devouring appetite for music — he’s written about it for publications such as Dusted and Cadence — he spent hours among records with Sawyer.
“From the beginning, she just had this encyclopedic knowledge of just everything in music,” Rosenstein says. “When we first met, I was deep into free jazz and European free improv music, and Angela turned me on to these newer noise acts like Hair Police and Wolf Eyes.”
Rosenstein, like many longtime customers, has become a collaborator with Sawyer, who has stayed busy outside the shop in a number of live music projects (Exusamwa, Duck That!, Preggy Peggy, and the Lazy Babymakers). Feeling like his listening was in a rut, Rosenstein took to performing to learn how to analyze recordings from a new point of view. His first ever performance was at Weirdo.
Though she’s often in the role of ringleader, Sawyer treats the shop and its shows as a privilege. “The way I interact with people and my ability to connect with them is because of those records. That’s probably sad,” she says with a self-deprecating laugh. “But it’s great that I get to do it! I’m not giving that up anytime soon.”
Also on Saturday, local folk-rock faves Tallahassee throw down their “Birthday Show,” celebrating five years in action for the band and leader Brian Barthelmes, who formed the group after a stint in the NFL with the New England Patriots. The band’s gruff front-porch personality and loping tunes of wide-open reflection have found a welcoming audience here, and it has friends Last Good Tooth, Diamond Doves (which is releasing a CD), and Hollis Brown along for the party. . . . Feb. 7 brings us to the Middle East for the latest from Boston alt-pop outfit Westland, whose new “Intimacy Without Intricacy” packs a dozen highly orchestrated punches a minute. The five-piece band weaves soaring vocal harmonies and bashing drums together with wall-of-sound guitars and glimmering end-of-the-world keyboards into an indestructible basket of pop-rock. It’s bringing along Halfway to Avalon, Gone by Daylight, Silhouette Rising, and DJ Lincoln. . . . Finally, Feb. 9 at Brighton Music Hall brings us the long-awaited new record from roots-rockers Kingsley Flood, who’ve blown up on the acclaim for last year’s “Colder Still,” with its rollicking modern juke-joint beats, moaning fiddles, road-weary vocals, and potent mix of rockabilly and spaghetti-western guitars. They’re with Velah and Air Traffic Controller.