Thursday, April 28, 2011

Iron & WIne with Poetry

There are many places in RVA to hear poetry and so many different variations that constitute poetry.

After an absence, the Poetic Principles series, for years at the VMFA, returned tonight but at a more fitting location, the Library of Virginia.

To mark the occasion, food and Virginia wine (Chateau Morrisette) were being served.

Although Richmond-born, Kate Daniels, the poet who was reading tonight, acknowledged that she hadn't lived here for thirty years.

She showed her RVA credibility by informing us that her parents had met at a blind date at the Tobacco Parade.

Boy, those were the good old politically incorrect days, huh?

Daniels was an excellent reader and interpreter of her mostly long-form poetry. "Bus Ride" was about Rosa Parks and "A History of Hair" about the Holocaust.

"Genesis 128," about her childhood suspicions of Catholics ("They had a lot of kids so they were having a lot of sex, unlike the Baptists"), contained the line "To anyone walking by, it would have looked like lust."

Speaking of how much she disliked her parents' smoking, she read "Cigarettes and Matches," with the line "I came to fear the little orgy of pleasure that excluded me," referring to her parents' shared vice.

"I am lifted from the stupor of the everyday," came from "Old Pain" about memories of her father smoking and his subsequent illnesses as a result.

"I'm not a very light poet," she told the audience, but followed that with a dash of humor, saying "The dream of every cliche is to make it into a poem" and read "Capitalism" which began with a reference to going to hell in a hand basket.

But as long as there is poetry being written and read, I don't see how that is possible.

Since I had barely over an hour between the reading and the show at the National and they were on adjoining blocks, I wound up eating at Gibson's by default.

Honestly, it was my first meal there pre-concert.

No, really.

The two guys next to me at the bar were also going to the show and were picking halfheartedly at a plate of nachos when I sat down and ordered. They eventually gave up and pushed the half-full plate away.

I wanted to reach over there and help myself; I was amazed that two guys couldn't finish one plate of nachos and said so, but delicately so as not to bruise their male egos.

"We went to Subway before we came here and got nachos," one said sheepishly.

"What? You have to know that guys aren't the smartest people on the planet. Come on, we're guys!"

It wasn't even worth piling on, so I just laughed and changed the topic to music.

Meanwhile, I had the fresh Mozzarella with basil and roasted red peppers and a balsamic reduction and garlic bread, a simple but satisfying supper.

By the time I finished up, it was time to head next door.

I'd heard raves about the Low Anthem from friends and when they came out, a clarinet, an upright bass, keyboard and musical saw, I knew I was in for a treat.

Everyone was a multi-instrumentalist and that's always impressive.

Introducing "Matter of Time" as a love song, they sang "So I feather my nest, See me puffing my chest" in beautiful harmonies with ever-changing instruments.

Unfortunately, the crowd was extremely talkative during their entire set.

"Y'all know Snoop Dog played here last night? How many of you were here? It still smells great backstage!"

My only question would be what does it smell like?

The show was sold out and after Low Anthem's set, that became apparent as bodies closed in around me. I wanted to leave and go get another drink but feared losing my prime space since I had no one but strangers to hold it for me.

Sam Beam came out and said, "It's a treat to be back in Richmond," referring to his years at VCU where he got a degree in painting.

"I've got a lot of in laws here tonight, so everyone act like you like us."

Not sure he had to make that request given the rabid crowd.

Of course, Sam Beam is Iron and Wine, a one-man band. In a teensy-weensy departure from that this evening, he had a ten-piece backing band.

There were backup singers and a horn section and two drummers; it was one-man band madness!

But it made for an incredibly lush sound and some downright beautiful harmonies, so why quibble about the meaning of one?

He wasn't particularly chatty between songs, instead preferring an occasional longer monologue.

He mentioned having walked around Richmond today, barely recognizing the city with all the new development and improvements.

 And naturally he'd gone down to see the river.

At one point he said that his grandfather had worked at a chemical plant in Hopewell.

When the old man learned that Sam and his friends were going swimming down off of Belle Isle, he intoned, "I wouldn't do that if I were you."

"But I haven't grown any extra appendages," Beam announced with a grin.

Beginning to play again, he amusingly said, "Let's get mellow," as if he'd been anything else.

"For the past few nights, people have been getting jacked up for some mellow, sleepytime music." Clearly he didn't get it, although there was some of that going on tonight.

I find it tough to understand hooting and hollering at Iron and Wine's deeply textured and powerful storytelling.

It's folk, maybe folk rock in places, and the kind of music that washes over you rather than amping you up. It's poetry set to music.

But as I've seen, everyone responds to poetry, whether spoken or sung, in their own way.

 The good news is that as long as poetry is being created, we couldn't possibly be in that collective hand basket to hell.

Not even those among us who aren't the smartest people on the planet.

You know who you are.

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