Sunday, May 31, 2009

Three Girls & Their Buddy...

...walk into the Ferguson Center at CNU, which isn't particularly notable except that the girls were Emmylou Harris, Shawn Colvin and Patty Griffin and their buddy was Buddy Miller. And so began an evening of mostly self-proclaimed sad songs and some of the most beautiful voices that could possibly harmonize.

The performance began with Harris singing and then allowed each of them to shine in turn. Miller accompanied each while also doing his time in the spotlight and all four made a point to talk to the audience in between songs. Colvin talked about what a tough time she had with post-partum blues after giving birth, Griffin told a joke charmingly and then flubbed the punchline, Miller downplayed his ability to sing his own song and Harris gave us a rant about "lunch lady arms," which are no longer acceptable for women over 40 (she mentioned it because of playing the shaker and only giving one arm a workout).

And as if the voices weren't more than enough to sustain the audience's rapt attention, it was a pleasure to watch such stylistically different guitar players as these four. Thank you, Holmes, for inviting me to join you on a road trip.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Keep Your Eyes Ahead

If I'm going to drive to Charlottesville to see a band I saw only a year ago, they had better be worth seeing.

And last night's electronica-tinged indie pop show by the Helio Sequence was just that.

There were some sound issues and guitarist/vocalist Brandon Summers looked a bit peeved about them, but since I'd never been to the Outback Lodge before, I don't know whether such problems are common there or not.

I love Summers' voice (and guitar playing) but it's drummer Benjamin Weikel that I can't take my eyes off.

This is one busy drummer; I think it's partly how much room he has to maneuver in musically and his sheer enthusiasm for playing.

Luckily, he always removes his cardigan before he starts playing (so as not to overheat probably) and the sweat starts flying.

The crowd was obnoxious, talking and socializing through much of the show, which was a shame considering the Helio Sequence's beautiful sound and superior lyric-writing.

"Can't Say No" is a spot-on indictment of today's culture:

consummate keepers of many left wondering
desolate dreamers with heads caught up in the sway
obstinate heeders of organized ignorance
making up rules for the mute and the willing
but all the kids that are raised in the freefall
and from the silence of a pacified strip mall
they pay the wage with the dollars of gravity
on their bedside, oh, my conscience calls to me

This is the second time I've seen this band with only 100 or fewer other people and it's such a treat to be only a few feet from major talent.

I almost hate to think about them getting any sort of mainstream recognition cause that will be the death knell for the kind of show I saw last night.

You know, the kind of show music lovers live for.

Friday, May 29, 2009

The Layoff Killed Him

"Matt's dead," the e-mail said. Matt used to be my brother-in-law, but he was my friend before he ever met or married my sister. I lived in a group house with him and two other guys years ago and I hadn't seen him in forever.

The last I had heard of him was about a year ago when he got laid off....from a company he had worked for since he was in his 20s and where all his close friends worked. After being laid off, he wouldn't return his friends' calls. The only person he'd talk to was his sister in New England and when he stopped answering her calls last week, she got worried.

Sure enough, when they entered his house, he was dead on the couch. Now, Matt had his vices: he always drank too much, smoked way too many cigarettes and had two completely different-sized wardrobes to accommodate his eating compulsions and major weight shifts. In time, any of these habits could have been fatal.

But realistically, we all know that it was being laid off that sent Matt over the edge. He was a victim of the recession, sure as if he'd jumped out a window. So sad.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Waving the Baton Goodbye

Richmond Symphony music director Mark Russell Smith conducted for the final time in Richmond last night. His music of choice was Mahler's 9th, a piece written once Mahler realized his own mortality and impending death. Some would call this musical choice a vanity piece (it ran 1 1/2 hours with no intermission) with Smith mopping his bald head with a handkerchief between movements. As far as I was concerned, it was an opportunity to hear an infrequently performed piece live.

Of course, the music had to compete with the audience noises. A woman in the row behind me had a on a tinkly charm bracelet, so she naturally had to move her arm incessantly. The woman with the oxygen machine running constantly provided further background noise. And what's a symphony performance without a man snoring in the back row. Yes, all the stock characters were in place.

Love him or hate him, Mark Russell Smith spent 10 years working with our symphony and there's something to be said for a decade of service. On the other hand, he never moved his family here, so here's hoping our next music director is willing to make the commitment to not just conduct in RVA, but actually live here, too. I don't think that's asking too much...do you?

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Pasties and Thongs Ruled

I saw "Lore" at Gallery 5 last night and if you haven't experienced Sweet Tease Burlesque before (I had), too bad for you because they are likely disbanding. "Lore" was cool for a whole lot of reasons, but if you didn't find these scantily-clad and extremely talented dancers titillating, it's time to check your bodily fluids. I'm just saying...

The performance consisted of about 15 dances strung together as a sort-of-folktale, with the only male being the Ringmaster Pan. From the sets to the costumes to the choreography, the entire show was such superior eye candy that I can't imagine anyone even got up to use the bathroom during the show. Best of all, burlesque encourages the audience to hoot, holler and express themselves and the audience for the final performance was not shy about voicing its appreciation for the beautiful bodies and movement before us.

The idea behind burlesque is to turn social norms head over heels (a position many of the dancers assumed at one point or another during the evening) and anyone who attended last night without any idea of what they'd be seeing undoubtedly found themselves a bit head over heels...impressed and aroused and engrossed. A great way to start a Saturday night.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

I Couldn't Do It for The Lorax

I spent some quality time at The Biggest Picture, RVA's annual environmental film fest, today but I didn't see Dr. Seuss' "The Lorax." I had seen it at last year's festival and 9:40 was just too early this morning (or maybe last night was just too late).

What I did see was "Return of the Scorcher," director Ted White's documentary from 17 years ago about bike culture, which was interesting, if a bit dated. White also took questions after the film and had generally good things to say about Richmond as a biking town after spending yesterday and last night riding all over the place. His main point seemed to be that bikers can't wait for biking improvements and policy to take to the streets. According to him, the more bikers on the road, the faster change will come.

The second film I saw was "Contested Streets," a film with some amazing archival footage from NYC's streets at the turn of the last century. Between the congestion of the horses, carts, people and dung, it looked like an altogether unpleasant place to be. The hope at the time was that cars would improve the situation and, of course, they only exacerbated it, minus the horse poop. The film grabbed me with its images from Amsterdam particularly because they have been so successful in creating a biking citizenry. This country could take some major lessons from their 40-year development of a human-focused road system. Baby steps, people, but we know it can be done. And I, for one, would like to get started.

Friday, May 15, 2009

The L Word's Loveliest Voice

Brandi Carlisle has the kind of amazing voice that makes rabid fans out of people when they first hear her. That voice was in fine form last night at the Lewis Ginter series Groovin' in the Garden and, despite the occasional rain sprinkles, undoubtedly made converts of anyone in the audience not already familiar with her.

And while I don't watch TV, those who do may recognize some of her songs because several were featured on Grey's Anatomy and used in commercials. Last night, her cover of the Beatles' "I've Just Seen a Face" was stellar, with its emphasis on "she's just the girl for me" (the women dancing down in front loved this).

I'm not big on the whole Groovin' series (way too many families and kids) but sometimes you just have to deal. I do appreciate LGBG's musical wisdom in bringing her to town. And as Brandi pointed out, it was a beautiful setting for music and her songs of mostly heartbreak on a spring night were the perfect match for my mood.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Wincing the Night Away

What's the difference between a sold-out Shins show and a sold-out MGMT show? The floor isn't nearly as beer-soaked when James Mercer and company are performing, although there are just as many strangers squeezing up against you. No that I'm complaining, because the more shows the National sells out, the more attractive this market will seem to touring bands.

Despite dire warnings from people who'd seen the Shins years ago, their performance was not dull or studio-like. Perhaps over the years the band has gotten more comfortable with the audience adulation since the movie "Garden State" propelled them into the spotlight. A large portion of the audience knew every word, even to the older songs, and didn't hesitate to sing along.

The band included two covers, one of an obscure Beach Boys song from 1964 and finally Neil Young's "Helpless." As one who has heard Young sing the original, I had to give the band props for their excellent cover of this 70s gem. It made a fitting close to an evening of superb musicianship (I always enjoy seeing band members trade instruments), the most impressive of which was Mercer's voice. New Slang anyone?

Monday, May 11, 2009

Monday Musings

It's true, I have yet to find a job, but not for lack of looking and applying. I refuse to get discouraged, especially since my life is good. My Monday (the dreaded first day of the work week for most) wasn't significant for any particular reason, but a collection of small pleasures and accomplishments made it a lovely day for me.

I enjoyed an afternoon of back and forth e-mails with my friend Jameson who just arrived in Buenos Aries to work on a community farm. We covered silent film, music, religion, marriage, farming and him coming back to the VA at the end of the year. I can't wait.

Finally made it back to Dollar Burger Night at Capital Ale House (and, no, I don't drink beer) where it was madness because they were having a Dogfish Ale Beer Dinner in addition to the unwashed masses, like me, showing up for dollar burgers. I'll bet it wasn't pretty back in the kitchen, although that staff definitely earned their shift beers tonight.

I enjoyed a long walk in a light rain with my new-to-me used umbrella from Diversity Thrift. And while I appreciate the convenience of the small collapsible umbrellas (I have several), there is nothing like a large, wooden-handled umbrella with a great pattern on a rainy day. It's like being in your own little world.

So, another day unemployed, but another day thoroughly enjoyed.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Wine for Sunsets on the Beach and Monster Truck Rallys*

Roasted beet and walnut bruschetta paired with Martella Sauvignon Blanc.

Serrano, Pancetta and eggplant empanada with Mahon and Manchego cheeses paired with Wine Guerrilla Two Vineyards Zinfandel blend.

Shrimp, mussel, chorizo and smoked paprika paella paired with Marques de la Concordia Tempranillo.

Triple chocolate Torte with fresh strawberries and raspberries paired with Martella Fairbain Ranch Bio-dynamic Syrah.

European Market and Cafe's Second Friday wine dinner's theme was "Spanish Influence on California Wine and Cuisine." Four courses, four wines, $25.

The food and wine were outstanding, as usual, and if you know of a better deal for an evening spent wining and dining, I'm all ears. And for the wine geeks reading this, the title* refers to the Wine Guerrilla blend (77% zin, 16% Cabernet sauvignon and 7% petite sirah) which clocks in at a healthy 14.6% alcohol. A bottle of this and you'll be hollering for the Gravedigger...

Friday, May 8, 2009

7-11. 301. Noon

A 40-oz of Old English Malt Liquor, a blunt in a purple plastic tube and a Slurpy that was half blue and half red. That's what the woman in front of me at 7-11 was buying today. And, wouldn't you know it, just as I was about to make a value judgment, she paid with a hundred dollar bill.

Whew! I was so relieved to see she wasn't using her last dollars for that array of entertainment.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Mute by Choice

Since becoming unemployed, I have had fewer opportunities to talk to others than I used to, which is not necessarily a bad thing. At least, according to Anne LeClaire, the author of "Listening Below the Noise: A Meditation on the Practice of Silence." This woman has spent 2 days a month for 17 years being silent for the entire day and shared her experiences with a curious audience at Fountain Bookstore tonight.

And as she explained, there are different levels of silence. There's no talking, of course, but there's also no TV, computer or music in the background. Apparently some people can have the radio on and believe they are "in silence." Not so much, says LeClaire.

The rewards of silence include an inner peace, an ability to delve within oneself and an ability to focus absolutely. In her own experience, silence allowed her to finally address some long-ignored issues within herself that she'd been avoiding for years. She found the silence opened her up enough to finally allow herself enough space to examine them.

I've been referred to as "a good talker" and "an excellent conversationalist" so not talking would take a fair amount of restraint on my part. On the other hand, I seem to have adjusted just fine to far less conversation now that I am no longer in an office. Who knows, perhaps the benefits of less talking and noise have helped me keep my equilibrium during these jobless months.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Lunatics, Lovers and Poets

Of all Shakespeare's plays, I've probably seen A Midsummer Night's Dream more frequently than any other, not necessarily by choice, but because it's performed with such regularity.

I added to that lifetime tally last night with Richmond Shakespeare's current version.

And I still found an awful lot to like in this latest staging.

With only five actors and assorted costume changes, 21 characters were brought to life in often hilarious ways.

My primary reason for wanting to see the play was the actor who played Theseus, Lysander, Flute, Oberon (and handled the puppets as Peaceblossom and Cobweb).

I had met Brandon Crowder once before and heard he was a terrific actor; he exceeded everything I had heard.

At times sniveling and pathetic, sometimes hysterically gay and also superb at playing the superior to his underlings, his every move was worth watching.

When he pranced, even his little toes were prancing and his lithe grace sprinting from tabletop to floor was a thing of beauty.

As a bonus, an actress I knew only as a fellow restaurant diner and avid reader, Kerry McGee, handled Hermia, Starveling and Puck with great aplomb.

She was lovelorn, simple and a troublemaker by turn and completely believable in each role.

Next time I see her reading while eating out, I'll have to interrupt and tell her how impressive she was.

This production will be the last for the troupe at Second Presbyterian's chapel and I, for one, will miss the space.

While it's not ideal with its long, narrow configuration, its wooden arches, balcony and Gothic ceiling were the perfect setting for period plays.

The upcoming new performing arts facility, Center Stage, will have some big shoes to fill if it is to be as well-suited a place to stage Shakespeare as Second Presbyterian and Agecroft Hall have been.

Listen to me...you'd think I was a native Richmonder, already lamenting the way things used to be.

Actually, I'm happy to see well done Shakespeare wherever I can find it.

I'm Practically a Pro at This

I say that because I marched in my second parade Friday night. Unlike the Halloween parade, however, this one was more significant because it was a May Day Rally. May Day is the celebration of social and economic achievement and the struggle of the labor movement. As a member of the unemployed masses these days, I felt like being part of a worker-supportive demonstration was a most worthwhile way for me to spend some time.

So I showed up at Abner Clay Park (okay, so it's only 2 blocks from my apartment) promptly at 7 because Kenny, one of the organizers, had told me earlier in the day that I needed to be there on time to get something to carry in the parade. The reward for my punctuality? A paper-mache ear. And while I was happy to be part of the "body part" contingent (I was the lips last parade), I ended up trading my ear for a a big WORKERS UNITE sign. Call me a wimp, but that ear was heavy (it was as tall as I am), so I gave it to a guy friend to carry...and it wore him out, so I know it would have challenged me.

The police presence was huge; as I walked up the block to the park I could see cop cars everywhere, so I asked an officer why so many were there. His response was, "This is Richmond, Where's there's lots of people, there will be lots of police." For a bunch of people carrying puppets and paper mache ears? Seriously? In any case, after telling us we couldn't walk in the streets, the cops were good enough to provide a police escort as we did walk in the streets on our abbreviated route.

Plenty of people watched, cheered and pointed as we made our way through Jackson Ward. Like the Halloween parade, it was great fun to do. But unlike that event, I felt proud to be showing my support for the causes of workers everywhere...a group I hope to rejoin in the near future.