Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Garnett's Sets the Tone for Music Done Right

"I feel like I just ate in your kitchen," the departing customer said to Kendra, owner of Garnett's moments after I sat down at the bar. That compliment just about sums up what a comfortable place this months-old restaurant is; as for me, I still haven't tried every single sandwich, so I was back to cross one more off my list. Besides, I knew Mac missed me.

Tonight it was the turkey with Swiss, bacon and coleslaw on rye bread that caught my eye and while it was almost too thick to get my mouth around, I managed. The beauty of this sandwich was the contrast between the sweetness of the cole slaw and the saltiness of the bacon. One of my favorite bearded regulars came in and ordered a BLT with a fried egg...and a side of a grilled cheese. I remember my first time eating at Garnett's a guy had a side of potato salad with his sandwich and then ordered another side of potato salad for dessert. I've also seen people order an extra side of those fabulous pickles; Garnett's has that kind of effect on people.

It's also a place where you're a fool not to order dessert; theirs are better priced than any place else in town, except for perhaps Black Sheep, and they're outstanding. Tonight I had yet another variation: chocolate cake with coffee icing. I don't even drink coffee and I thought it was wonderful; imagine how coffee lovers would swoon.

Like several other customers who came through Garnett's while I was there, I was headed to the Michaux House for this month's installment of the Listening Room. I arrived early enough to secure good seats for me and the two friends who were joining me. The well-trained audience was in their seats and hushed by 7:59.

The Colloquial Orchestra was up first, a local super group of sorts, made up of Chad of The Florentines, Matt of the Low Branches and Louisiana Territory and Dave Watkins ("I'm just Dave Watkins," he told us). Unusual instruments were the highlight here; Chad played the bouzouki, Matt the baritone ukulele and Dave the dulcitar.

The first song, all instrumental, was highlighted by Dave singing into the body of the dulcitar, causing it to resonate. From my vantage point, he appeared to be kissing his instrument, but the sound he produced was almost as good as a kissing sound. Another song, Pangea's Revenge, was introduced as "for all you hopeless romantics out there," and the lyrics were shown on a screen for a group singalong. Or, as Dave put it,"So you can't talk at the Listening Room, but no one said you couldn't sing." Those three stringed instruments playing together was truly a thing of beauty.

Up next was singer/songwriter Dean Fields, who while tuning his guitar, told the audience that "I wrote this song for banjo. This is not one." He entertained us with stories in between songs ("I wrote this in a bar in Raleigh. That paints a picture, doesn't it?") and explanations (about the song Dandelion Rain: "I find humidity inspiring.") He described the Listening Room environment as a reminder of how all the songs were written: simply and with just him and his guitar. Favorite lyric: "You pray the waiting's worth the next in line." So true. He closed with a song called Imitations, describing it as the first song he ever wrote that he didn't think was garbage. Not even close, Dean.

I wasn't at all familiar with local band The Thirds, a four-piece tonight, who began by telling us that they didn't have any good stories to tell, so they were just going to play. With two guitars, bass and keyboard, they also informed us that they were"kind of a rock band most of the time." Their stripped down acoustic sound for the evening may not have been rock (or, more appropriately, indie rock), but those keyboards and synthesized sounds elevated the music to something compelling. My friend found the vocals Death Cab for Cutie-like, which could be a good or bad thing, depending on your perspective; I liked the guy's voice and phrasing. Favorite lyric: "Chemical reactions that I can't explain/I'm way too old for this."

Without going all superlative on you, the Listening Room never disappoints; the organizers continue to bring in talented musicians to an atmosphere that encourages appreciation. Dean wisecracked with, "How you guys doing? Oh, yeah, you guys can't talk," which drew a huge laugh from the attendees. And, as always happens at these shows, midway through, a section of the strung-up lights broke free of their mooring and dropped, to the surprise of the band and delight of the audience. Like respectful silence during the show, it's one of those things you can always count on at the Listening Room. Fortunately, it doesn't make a sound when it happens.

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