Wednesday, March 31, 2010

What Happens in Norfolk, Stays in Norfolk

Sometimes you simply have to get out of town, even if it's just for an evening.

One of my favorite new bands, Fanfarlo, was playing at the Norva tonight, so I invited a friend to join me for a night in Norfolk.

The drive down gave us a chance to talk about the kind of things you only discuss once and never mention again.

You know.

A Facebook friend had suggested we eat at Empire, next to the charming Tazwell Hotel, and since I'd eaten there before and really enjoyed it, we took the suggestion.

It's a tiny place with a fully visible kitchen and the bartender immediately wanted to be friends.

He was unapologetically playing pure '80s music and my friend about lost it upon hearing Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam.

It's the little things that make an evening.

As we endlessly scanned the wine list, the bartender tried to help us along by supplying his thoughts, like "The Pinot Noir is a nice light-bodied choice."

And the Malbec, I inquired? "Oh, that's just down and dirty," he grinned. "It's my favorite."


Dirty was just where we wanted to go tonight.

Empire is a tapas place, so many small plates followed, all outstanding.

The two salads, one lump crab with arugula, goat cheese and lemon pepper dressing and the other watercress, jicama and orange with pickled peppers and honey vinaigrette, were probably the highlight; they couldn't have tasted fresher.

I had a black bean and lump crab cake with sweet corn hash and truffle scallion aioli and my friend got the petite fillet of beef with fried goat cheese and a lemon risotto cake.

We shared the orange seared asparagus with toasted hazelnuts. Had the hazelnuts been a dish by themselves, we'd have gotten them.

Sitting to my right at the bar were a couple who may have qualified for hipster status in Norfolk, but would never have passed in RVA

I overheard their discussion of the two cities ("Yea, I tried Richmond for a while, but it just wasn't the same," he told her. "I had to come back here." My condolences, friend.)

It's just my opinion, but Norfolk feels pretty souless and, as my friend pointed out, kind of like one big mall.

We walked over to the Norva, making sure we got there in time for opener Lawrence Arabia, a folky/psychedelic kind of group.

They delivered a short but interesting set, drawing from everyone from the Byrds to Big Star.

They're from New Zealand so they had great accents and attitudes; we particularly enjoyed the lyrics to one of their songs:

We love each other
We hate each other
We're afraid of each other
Cause we want to screw each other

Friend and I agreed that those lyrics reminded us of certain cliques in Richmond.

We were sorry to see them leave the stage.

Except that that meant it was time for Fanfarlo and their exceptional and eclectic sound.

I'm not going to rave too much about them because I did that last fall when I first saw them live, here. 

My friend had only a glancing familiarity with them, but I had every confidence that the beautiful vocals (every single band member sings), variety of instrumentation (melodica, xylophone, clarinet, mandolin, fiddle, trumpet besides the usual drum, bass, guitar) and sincerity would be enough to make a fan.

And it was. "They are an awesome live band," was her final proclamation.

Early on in the show, one of the band members observed that, "This venue is like America, vast and wide open. Please populate the front."

It was true; in a 1500-person venue, there were, maybe, 100 people.

I'd seen them play the 150-person Iota last fall and it not only sold out, there was a line around the block disappointed at not being able to get in.

But Norfolk is a strange town and what rocks Richmond or DC doesn't necessarily fly there.

It worked out well in that it was a far more comfortable show than when I last saw them squeezed between humanity, but their beautiful sound deserved a more intimate setting.

They're playing Bonnaroo this year and I wonder if the crowd will be able to hear that sonic beauty in a field of thousands.

But that's not my problem.

Our problem had been a need to get out of town and enjoy ourselves like we were on vacation, with no familiar faces around.

We had a terrific meal set to '80s music, followed by some of the most interesting and beautiful music made in the last year.

Driving home completely satisfied, we had a chance to finish our earlier chat about the unmentionable topics.

Or as my friend said, "These things must stay in Norfolk."

At least until the next road trip east.


  1. i was there, would of loved to talk to you. stumbled on your blog because of the show and really enjoying all the music stuff.

  2. Hey, thanks! Wasn't it a stellar show? Glad you're enjoying the blog.