Friday, November 30, 2012

Post Beaver Moon

My friend Myron said he was there for the entertainment.

Frankly, they had me at "oddly sexy."

Artist Arlene Shechet was speaking at the Grace Street theater about her creative processes.

She began by reading the words of other people who, she said, had conveyed in words what she thought but couldn't verbalize.

Things like, "Creativity means having the ability to be embarrassed."

I like to think I have both skill sets.

She then proceeded to, "quickly riff through twenty years of my life."

He current exhibit at Anderson Gallery is called "That Time" and after hearing her speak, her work is clearly all about a number of times.

Like 1993 when her work was being informed by birth (her children) and death (her best friend).

After a realization that everyone is going to die, Shechet resolved to be more alive.

Part of that was spending time daily in her studio, whether it was fifteen minutes or hours.

Like during the '90s when "lots of gender stuff was going on."

Like in 2001 when she was walking across the Brooklyn bridge after dropping her kids at school and saw the plane fly into the first tower. And the second.

That time.

It took me a while just to get my head around that experience.

Shechet captured the audience's attention because her journey, not to mention her well-formulated explanations, were so compelling.

We saw images of her works in glass, ceramics, printmaking and finally, from 2005 on, clay.

She was quick to remind us that seven years ago, clay was still marginalized, the material of crafters.

So naturally she went on to make clay pieces that were hailed for their leaning, bulging and, yes, even oddly sexy qualities.

She admitted that some of her pieces did topple over and that, "Some of the failures are good and some of them are just failures."

That's life, right?

Toward the end, she showed images with little explanation.

"I don't want to be more articulate than the object," she said brilliantly.

By the time I left the lecture, I felt like I'd met the most interesting guest a party and she'd spent the entire evening telling me her history.

How could she not create art in response to those times?

For my evening opener, I couldn't have asked for more.

Not more art anyway, but certainly some music.

It was forthcoming at Gallery 5 where a show rescheduled from October was finally happening.

Opening was comedian Alan Resnick who proceeded to give us a comic presentation in the style of a motivational speaker, complete with head mic.

It was pretty hilarious.

One of his first instructions was for us to sit down on the floor.

Raptly, we did.

His well-delivered constant patter bordered on smarmy as he told us how we could outlive our family and friends by getting an avatar.

He then proceeded to attempt a comedic routine with his avatar on a screen behind him.

The crowd ate it up.

And let me tell you about the crowd.

One kid in RayBans despite the dark room. Another in a Santa hat.

One in a hat that looked like a shark was biting his head, complete with teeth all the way around.

Lots of Xs on hands.

That crowd.

Next up was Heights with Friends, a trio of guitar and two vocalists with aspirations of the Beastie Boys.

They said they were starting with an a capella song, but it came out more like  rap.

I don't want to say they had a bleak outlook, but lyrics like, "Dreams don't always come true, Do what you have to," surely can't be good for impressionable young X-marked youth.

Of course they loved it.

My favorite moment of their set may have come when the guitarist traded his ax for a trumpet solo or it could have been the lyric, "I can't stop eating the sugar," as inscrutable or metaphorical line as a 20-something could come up with.

During the break, a message on the screen announced, "Download the Dan Deacon app. Turn all your phones into the light show. Help us make this dream a reality."

Luckily, I didn't have the tool to make that a reality, so I was off the hook.

When headliner Dan Deacon finally took the floor (eschewing the stage), it was to tell us that this was his first solo show in ages and that it was going to be sloppy.

He may have even mentioned it being a shit storm.

Instead, he kicked into high gear with his electro dance noise and the minute he began bouncing, so did the crowd.

From there, he was the boss of everyone in the room, telling us to clear the center of the floor and picking two people to dance there.

After five seconds, they were to tap someone else to replace them.

One rule: No cowards. Dance or get out of the way.

And dancing is a loose term; all that was realty required was high energy motion, whether flailing, jumping jacks or imaginary pole dancing.

Deacon must enjoy orchestrating his dance parties, because he went on to choose leaders for a group interpretive dance, splitting those of us on the right side of the room from those on the left.

Even smashed against the wall, I did what I could to follow along, moving body parts according to my team's leader.

When he tried to do the app light show, things weren't working and he finally canned the idea.

"This'll be much less awkward the the mass phone thing," he promised, launching into another rhythmic, fast-paced song that dared you not to dance, if only in place.

You become fast friends with those near you in that situation.

During a mid-set trip to the bathroom, the bearded guy in line behind me chatted me up about bathroom speed, dance music and Richmond.

Later, he ended up next to me and during an especially rambunctious dance move, bonked me royally.

Mortified, he grabbed me to his chest and hugged me to show there were no hard feelings (only hard elbows).

We were all in this together.

The crowd went crazy (okay, crazier) for Deacon's exuberant "Wham City" and next thing we knew, his mixer broke and the show was over.

Or maybe it was just time.

The dancing (and dance-offs) had been pretty much non-stop, with the beat never really letting up.

Okay, it had been a little sloppy, with lots of random body contact and flashing lights.

Way better than a shit storm. Entertainment, even.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Mind the Culture

It's not often a Banner lecture gives me recent cultural history and memories of an old boyfriend.

And yet, today's did.

Alan Wurtzel was speaking on "Good to Great to Gone: Circuit City," talking about the chain his father started in 1949 that was history by 2009.

I go to lots of lectures at the Virginia Historical Society, but they don't often cover events that took place in my lifetime (well, part of it).

So, right off, I was curious to hear this slice of late 20th century cultural history.

Plus, back in college, I'd had a long-time boyfriend who worked at Circuit City and had always praised the company for its people-friendly philosophy.

Wurtzel told the story of his father visiting Richmond and while at a barber shop at the corner of Park and Robinson (Robin Inn's corner, perhaps?), hearing that the south's first television station had just begun.

And while TV viewing in those days was pretty much "a 13 inch black and white screen with half picture and half snow," according to Wurtzel, his Dad saw the future.

Let's not forget that in 1949, "home entertainment" consisted of radios. Period.

Two weeks later, he moved to Richmond with his family, lock, stock and barrel and proceeded to use $13,000 to open Ward's TV at 705 West Broad Street, which eventually became Circuit City.

Most fascinating was how he sold TVs.

Seems he'd run ads in the RTD offering "free home demonstrations" and schedule them for every night at 6, 7, 8 and 9:00.

Interesting hours, right?

Nope, WTVR was only on the air from 6-10, so he knew what he was doing.

He'd bring a TV, explain it and leave it, returning the next night to either pick it up or (usually) have the proud new owners sign an installment agreement to buy their TV over time.

Eventually the store moved to 1806 W. Broad (across from the old Sears we're all hoping is about to become a Whole Foods) and added appliances to his inventory of TVs.

Wurtzel has done extensive research for his book, so his talk was populated by facts and company philosophies like "confront the brutal facts" and "curiosity sustains the cat" and "encourage debate."

As one who has confronted the brutal facts (I'm a little eccentric and I have too much energy), proved that curiosity can sustain an entire life (hence my presence at VHS today) and encouraged debate with everyone I know and love simply for the pleasure of the discussion, I'd say I could have been prime Circuit City material.

All except I never liked TV, haven't owned one in years and detest shopping.

Oh, and the relationship with the Circuit City boyfriend lost its allure when my curiosity kept growing and his fizzled out.

As I learned from Wurtzel today, that's a perfect metaphor for Circuit City.

But, man, did it leave some great cultural history behind.

In and Out Lost in Mercury

It's interesting how a beer joint keeps pulling me in.

Yet again, I found myself back at Capital Ale House, only instead of a Moliere reading, this time it was for a Nashville band.

We started at the bar with a bottle of Autumn Hill Cabernet Franc and the house spiced Virginia peanuts to pass the time until the doors of the music hall opened.

When they finally did, we segued seamlessly to the big, empty rain, taking the front banquette table to ensure a view of the band over the crowd.

An hour later, the cavernous room was feeling pretty cold and drafty and it seemed like a crowd was unlikely to materialize.

It wasn't my problem. If Moon Taxi had to play for us alone, so be it.

I've always found Cap Ale's menu a little staid, but last time we'd scored with a few well-chosen items, so this time I went hoping for more.

I found it on the chalkboard outside which advertised half a chicken braised with Coca Cola and soy sauce and a hash brown casserole.

We began with a nice house salad and garlic bleu cheese dressing just full of chunks of cheese.

The obscenely large half a chicken came bathed in a near-black sticky sauce that was especially divine on the chicken skin.

As we chowed down, a few more people trickled in the room and found tables, but it was still very thin pickin's.

It was during dessert - apple pie with vanilla ice cream and caramel sauce - that the opener, locals the young-looking Shack Band took the stage.

By that time, there were a few of their fans in the house for their funk-based rock.

The long-limbed keyboard player seemed to be vying with the exuberant guitarist/vocalist who couldn't stop bouncing and jumping to get the crowd engaged.

Eventually they launched into Bill Withers "Use Me," although I saw no recognition on the crowd's faces of the '70s classic.

But it was obvious that the bass player was in heaven.

Afterwards, the enthusiastic keyboardist said, "That's an old Bill Withers tune. Look it up and add it to your iPod."

You heard the man, kids.

Next they called up Trevor, the lead singer of Moon Taxi, the band we'd come to hear.

His stellar voice and harmonica playing were a welcome addition to a song with a lyric, "Tennessee, you got the best of me."

And then Tennessee was about to deliver the highlight of the evening.

Moon Taxi began their set with a stage filled with lighting, two zig-zag lights on the sides and many light sticks sitting around the instruments.

The lights proceeded to change color and flash throughout, a nice touch but certainly no Dave Watkins, either.

And finally, the crowd had arrived, filling every table.

The five piece (guitar/vocals, bass, keyboards, drums, guitar/synth) took off with Trevor's outstanding vocals and a wash of sound that pretty much dominated for the duration.

Well-written songs, hints of folk and just a touch of hip-hop influence had me thinking Maroon 5 meets jam band.

"All the Rage" was plenty catchy, but then so was Peter Frampton's "Do You Feel Like We Do?" inspiring waves of dancers to abandon tables for the floor in front of the stage.

1973, anyone?

The blur of the flashing lights and the band's long jams kept every dancer transfixed.

So you can imagine what Moon Taxi did to them when they played their "Southern Trance."

During a discussion at our table about the band's place in the music world yielded the suggestion that these guys were "post-pop," as good a description as any I could come up with.

They did "Mercury," with its rolling waves of sound as their last song, but fortunately gave us an option afterwards.

"You want one more?" Trevor asked the adoring crowd.

Yes, please.

No, I'm not a jam band fan.

Yes, I was impressed with the densely-layered sound and the musicianship of all five of them.

At times, my ear was trying to choose between the impressive keyboard and synth parts, but only when I wasn't fixated on the essential talent of drums, bass and guitar.

And always, it came back to the amazing voice (and charisma) of the lead singer/guitarist.

Nighfall 
and nothing to lose
Sweet sensation 
that you can't refuse
Take it inside 
and play the song
Could you be loved?
My number one

Turns out a beer joint was just the place to hear a really talented Tennessee band and eat some Co-Cola yard bird.

Okay, his dimples didn't hurt.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Hot Bacon and Dead Deer

Time it right on a Tuesday and a chef will come out to the bar and talk to you.

The illustrator and I met at Heritage to have the happy hour we'd missed once before.

A lively crowd of Style Weekly origins took up all but a couple stools at the far end and those were ours.

Over happy hour Pinot Noir, we talked turkey (and ham and rockfish), shared relative anecdotes and affirmed our superiority over the estrogen-deficient.

It's what long-time girlfriends do after too long.

We dove into the ever-evolving menu for the smoked fish dip and an array of house-pickled vegetables.

First of all, someone is clearly having a ball smoking an doing a terrific job at it.

Secondly, those pickled swiss chard, onions, carrots and bee-yoo-tee-ful bread and butter pickles  were every canning grandmother's dream.

Devouring the dip at an alarming pace, we soon found ourselves bereft of toast on which to spread it.

And that's how we conjured up the first chef.

Chef Joe showed up unbidden with more toast and talk of pig parts.

While they were calling tonight's appetizer special "crispy terrine," we all knew it was just head cheese.

Mmmmmmmm.

The crispy pig parts sat atop a creamy polenta with brussels sprouts in between.

It was exquisite, perfectly balancing the fattiness of the terrine with the bitterness of the sprouts and the herby creaminess of the polenta.

Meanwhile, Joe regaled us with his passion for smoking things. And making his own bacon.

Conveniently, some was about to come out of the oven.

Naturally, that inspired us to get a charcuterie plate of Mangalitsa lardo, Tasso ham, Border Springs lamb summer sausage and that oven-fresh bacon along with an explanation of wooly pigs and heritage breeds from the chef.

To quote the illustrator, "Be still my heart." It was a little bit of heaven on a piece of slate.

By the time we looked up from slate o' meat and tales of first loves and pickling, the restaurant was near capacity.

No doubt they'd heard about the bread and butter pickles.

Eventually my pal had to go home to draw something so we hugged on Vine and called it a night.

Carver called.

By the time I got to the Magpie, things were slowing down.

With Impuls 71, a blend of Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon, in hand, I listened to the dessert offerings, choosing the  chocolate/caramel/sea salt torte.

Next thing I know Chef Owen has wandered out of the kitchen, probably due to all foods having been cooked by this point.

Right in front of my eyes he morphs from chef to beer drinker chatting with nearby patrons like me.

There is shared hearsay about new restaurants, rumors and realities.

Once a friend of his came in, the conversation turned to more manly topics.

The chef and I heard how a guy riding a scooter had hit a four-point deer head-on and escaped with only a sprained wrist.

And, yes, the scooter was toast.

The storyteller said the scooter driver had called a friend after it happened and said, "I totaled the scooter, I killed a deer and I need a ride home."

I would have such a hard time being serious after hearing that that I'm quite sure I would offend.

It soon became clear that both guys I was talking to were avid huntsmen since the callee's response of, "Okay, I'll come get you. How much meat do I get?" did not crack them up at all.

Instead of laughing at that response like I did, they both nodded their heads knowingly.

As in, yea, how much meat should I get for coming to get you?

I found it hilarious.

But what I found even better was when Chef Owen, a fellow Jackson Ward resident, said he was planning to have a mural put on the Norton Street side of the restaurant.

I'm quite sure the dearly departed Dr. Norton would be smiling down on such a thing.

Looking forward, he said he hoped to buy the building and treat the whole building as an art project.

I'd be the first to say that Carver could use more public art, so I found his ideas downright neighborly and even forward-thinking.

We took a sharp left into humor when  he told me about his new neighbors, one an older Italian man who walks his little dog wearing only a wife beater and sweat pants.

Except in cold weather when he adds gloves to the wife beater. And waves to Owen.

I laughed so hard I had to stop and catch my breath. I only hope to see this guy around the neighborhood.

That's right, bar sitters. Chefs are good for more than pickling tips.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Replacement

I gotta give Church Hill props.

My photographer friend and I had plans to meet at Proper Pie and when they weren't open, we headed a few blocks further to eat instead.

Remember when the Church Hill choices used to be A or B for lunch?

Anthony's on the Hill welcomed us in with "Papa Was a Rolling Stone," a friendly server in the most beautiful red lipstick and a lunch menu of sandwiches, salads and pizza.

Everyone else eating there was male and seemed to be going for pizza.

Friends and I took the front window table just in time to see a guy walking a beagle go by, so the view was good.

The front door of the restaurant is so heavily weather-stripped that it took a concerted effort to close it, which most people coming and going didn't bother to do.

Every time I felt that cold, damp air across my fuchsia legs, I'd dutifully get up and close the door properly.

I didn't mind; it was worth it for the warmth (which Friend was getting from his Rostov's coffee, or as he out it, "Adding some blood to the coffee in my veins").

Looking at the menu, Friend and I decided we wanted the same thing: the Italian.

Only difference was he wanted his hot and I wanted mine cold.

The way I see it, an Italian is enough without adding in heat, too.

I liked that the sandwiches came with a small salad dressed in balsamic, although my friend found it unimpressive.

The sandwiches, though, were excellent - full of quality cold cuts, roasted red pepper and a generous serving of Provolone.

As we sat there eating, more customers came in and left the door open.

When I went to get up to close it, I felt a hand on my shoulder and the owner insisted that he'd take care of it.

I was too full for dessert, but Friend couldn't resist the cannoli and even offered me a bite as we sat there lingering over a fine lunch.

Then the beagle and his person returned and I headed outside to say hello to Townes, a velvety soft beagle who seemed to be enjoying the rainy day.

When I got back to the table, my friend said that Townes had looked longingly at me when I walked away.

It's good to be missed.

And sometimes it's good to miss out on your first choice when the replacement turns out to be so pleasurable.

Props, Anthony.

Keep Calm and Carry On

There can never be too many things to do on a Monday night.

So when I discover at 5:00 that there's an interesting-sounding show at 6:00, I do what any red-blooded music lover would.

I looked up their Bandcamp page and listened online.

And then headed down to Globehopper for Brooklyn's The Sky Captains of Industry.

And you know what we got? Crosby, Stills and Nash for the 21st century.

Three stellar voices, two guitars and a bass, drop-dead harmonies and some of the funniest, most literate lyrics sung around here lately.

The songs I'd heard online had been a full band, but honestly, I liked their drum-less versions even better.

In addition to the band's repertoire, we also heard some solo work by the guys, including Jasper's "High Strung Poets," a song that made me wish I knew one.

"Dog Eat Dog," with its memorable lyric, "They got dog eat dog kind of faces" got our attention while the scant crowd carried on.

And by that, I mean there was one girl on a laptop, one on her phone pretending to study and one who alternated between his phone and his laptop.

I was embarrassed for Richmond.

It's hard to convey the innate pleasure of "Love Shark," but maybe the lyrics will help: "Love shark, I still feel your bite, It keeps me up at night."

Their beautifully (and different) melodious voices were shown to advantage on "Atomic Red," before bass player Don played guitar and did his song "Out Like a Lamb" with its memorable "Could been worse, Coulda been struck in a tree."

"This is our only song about alchemy," guitarist E.W, said about the song "Alchemist," singing, "Please turn my lead heart to gold."

Yes, all the lead hearts should be turned to gold and it would be a better world, wouldn't it?

Guitarist Jasper did another song so like Darden Smith as to give me flashbacks to 1992.

The trio had such great chemistry on top of their musical chops that I kept wishing the place was packed.

Fortunately, a few more people straggled in over the course of their set, but the place should have been packed throughout.

One guy who did stop by was Justin with whom they claimed they'd played in various permutations.

He hugged E.W. before bassist Don teased, "I don't get a hug? I wore my cardigan for you!"

And he had (very dashingly) and it was over a black t-shirt saying, "Keep Calm and Carry On."

Them's words to live by.

As the evening progressed, just as I thought I'd decided which voice was my favorite or which musician's playing got my ear, they'd do another song and someone else would sing and my favorite would change.

Jasper and E.W. did "99-Cent Dream," a song about not having a job, a car or a girl with Justin singing background vocals.

Let's just say the lyrics involved looking for a job sweeping sand off the beach.

Someone near me indicated a desire to get that job, too.

"Rocket City" was the purest form of bubblegum pop, foreshadowing the high-pitched "Crocodile Rock"-like "la, la, la, la, la, las" that inevitably came.

It was so satisfying when they did come that I almost wanted a cigarette.

Their last song got off to a memorable start when guitarist Jasper assumed a caballero-like pose against the nearby wall and bassist Don took on vocals.

Jasper's pose allowed him to look soulful while soloing against the wall.

"Come on, climb aboard, We're headed to the stars."

It was beautiful. Their voices would have knocked the socks off any number of folky singers I know in RVA.

I only hope they come back so more people hear about the show in time to check out their layered voices, fine musicianship and clever songwriting.

Or if they want to come back and play another practically private show for me, I'm okay with that, too.

It just seems like a waste given how much people I know would like these guys.

That said, it was all over by 8:00, so we moved across town to Stuzzi for $2 pizza night.

There is no better deal in town than that true Neapolitan-style pizza baked in 90 seconds.

Washed down with Montepulciano and the owner's opinions on the NYC and RVA dining scenes, it was just right after wine and folk at a coffee shop.

Dessert was zuppa Inglaise, with rum-soaked cake and enough cream to make up for the absence of chocolate.

To bookend the evening, we left Stuzzi for Balliceaux and the RVA Big Band's weekly gig.

Surprisingly, when we arrived only 14 of the 17 musicians were playing.

Sure, they sounded good, but what was up?

Before long, the tiny woman who plays baritone sax showed up and took her place at the end of the front row of saxes.

Before long, a familiar face sauntered in and the bandleader announced, "Bryan Hooten has arrived."

The trombonist took a seat in the second row, found his place and eventually added his well-honed chops to the mix.

It was a good crowd tonight, maybe four dozen at its peak, but a lot of enthusiasm and attention from the crowd.

At one point, the guy next to me and I struck up a chat and he turned out to be a singer for Virginia Opera, in town for a performance.

We agreed that we were hearing some swingin' music tonight, albeit from the back banquette.

But with sixteen instruments playing (they remained guitar-less all night), there's a lot of sound washing over you and that's what we were there for.

But then, I'd climbed aboard and headed to the stars hours earlier.

You're knocking my socks off here, Monday. Keep it up.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Low Times and Buttery Fingers

Top five reasons to go to the Byrd on the last night of the Thanksgiving holiday?

Perspective
In line buying tickets, a woman behind me says to her friend, "Oh, shoot! I forgot to bring my coupon." Really, you need a coupon for a $1.99 ticket? I will never think of myself as dirt poor again.

Popcorn
Sure, Bowtie lets you butter your own popcorn, but the girls behind the concession counter at the Byrd are my butter surrogates. When they ask if I want butter, I say "Yes, a lot" and easily the bottom inch of the popcorn bucket is liquid. Disgusting and delicious.

Population
Although I've been out every night this week, the usual crowds have definitely been way down. Even so, the Byrd had a good-sized crowd for a Sunday evening. Groups, couples, old, young, it's a nicely diverse crowd.

Patience
Despite a decent crowd already in place when we walk in, we find good seats in the middle of a center row, making sure we're not in front of anyone's view. Two minutes later a group of teenagers arrive and plop themselves directly in front of us. Rows of empty seats abound but they have to sit right in front of me. And I'm short.

Passing Time
I admit it, I had no intention of seeing "The Odd Life of Timothy Green." I'm not a fan of mainstream Hollywood movies. I'd always prefer subtlety to heavy-handed scripts and acting. I don't approve of children portrayed as little adults, spouting things children never say. And don't get me started on a film that depicts children as ways to demonstrate their parents' accomplishments.

That said, the driving rain scene where Timothy is born from the garden had the most realistic sounding rain sounds enveloping us on all sides. It was almost as good as being inside during a real rainstorm.

Best of all, I am supporting a local business.

Hell, that alone is a good enough reason.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Taking Jersey Shots

The city is still operating in holiday mode.

Parking spaces abound. Few cars are on the road. It doesn't even feel like a Saturday.

Driving up Main Street in search of dinner, places appear to be lightly populated.

The emptiest of all is Mediterranean Bistro on the corner of South Addison, a three -week old  '70s-era Mediterranean restaurant we soon learn.

Walking in, it seems familiar.My companion thinks he knows why.

"It's like every Greek diner in Jersey," he opines.

I think I've eaten in Jersey maybe twice so I am unsure what that involves.

I find out. Red plastic water tumblers.  Two big screen TVS, both on and blaring. A menu of Greek and Italian dishes.

Taking seats at the bar, I immediately ask our affable bartender if he can mute the TVs since we're the only customers.

He obliges.

When it comes time to choose music, he defers to us.

Despite being a metal fan, he admits to liking D'Angelo, so he uses that as a starting point for a Pandora station.

"We can change it if you don't like it," he says accommodatingly.

Bowing to the menu, we choose Elios Red, a fruit-forward blend from Greece and then a Greek salad.

As we shared the salad, the bartender brought us small bowls.

"The kitchen just took some rice pilaf out of the oven," he said. "Here, try some."

Try some, you'll like it. It was a family thing to do.

A traditional menu calls for a traditional dish, so we ordered the handmade eight-layer lasagna to share.

We'd banked on typical Jersey proportions and boy, did we get them.

An enormous piece of lasagna came doused in dried oregano but otherwise perfectly satisfactory for the place and the price.

It'll be interesting to see what crowds they'll draw being on the main drag but being of the plastic-covered menu variety.

That and the butter coming in small plastic containers kind of place.

Despite a valiant attempt on both our parts, part of the lasagna left when we did.

Call me demanding, but a meal evocative of the Jersey turnpike was not enough to soothe my soul tonight.

There were shows galore, but I opted for the Long Arms show at Poe's Pub.

Walking in, I saw the usual Poe's crowd of neighborhood men and die-hard smokers/drinkers, aka the Poe's regulars.

Nearer the back room, I ran into Long Arms' leader, James, a fellow history nerd and lecture attendee.

He gave me a hard time about finally coming to see his band (alright, it had been over a year) but seemed genuinely glad to see me.

Black Brothers was already playing so I quickly found an empty stool and planted it.

The band was a standard rock trio (guitar, bass, drums) with the unexpected addition of trumpeter Lucas Fritz, whom I'd seen many times in various permutations at the Camel.

It didn't take long to be hooked on their Southern take on alt-rock with horn and I got the sense that many in the room felt the same.

After their interesting set, the guitarist said, "We're the Black Brothers and we have a couple t-shirts and CDs in case you want them. But you probably don't."

I have to admit, I admire that kind of anti-marketing.

And, just so you know, there are two brothers named Black in the band.

Truth in rock and roll.

Despite Poe's being an infrequent destination for me, I ran into several friends, resulting in several hysterical conversations.

Favorite line from the a handsome bass player: "I mean, how do people go out and do stuff like you do and still have time to clean house and do laundry?"

We all do what we gotta do, maybe just a little faster, my friend.

By the time Long Arms took the stage, I was deep in conversation with another friend, this time about women who send texts to male friends about their significant others.

Best line in that chat: "Tuesday's generally the big hookup day, right in the vortex of the work week."

I swear, I just sat down in a stool and they talk to me.

Not all of them because many of them were outside on the deck smoking away.

Poe's is nothing if not smoker-friendly and I couldn't get over the clutch of smokers in heavy coats and hats out there throughout the evening.

Violinist Treesa Gold of Long Arms had told me that anytime you see a picture of her playing in the band, she looks happy because she enjoys it so much.

Actually, they all- two guitars, keys, drums, bass, violin- looked like they were having a blast.

The music is fun, part rootsy, part punk and part alt-country with James wowing the girls with his casual indifference and earnest energy.

And he's funny, too, saying things like, "Being pretty's my full time job."

"That's the stuff bumper stickers are made of," a friend said sotto voice afterwards.

Songs rolled out seamlessly from James saying, "This song is about a gunslinger" (he's no doubt an expert) to "Downtown Dreamer" to dedicating a song to "A guy I met in Memphis and I'm looking at him right now."

From the band's opening notes, an uber-fan danced directly in front of the band, clearly having too much fun.

When James wanted to get really earnest, he pulled out his harmonica and made the little girls swoon.

"Get it cookin', Son!" someone called from the crowd.

Man-about-town Prabir joined me for the set, an interesting companion because he used to be in Long Arms.

Watching intently, he commented on how weird it was to be watching another guitarist perform the parts he'd written.

After a particularly tasty little part, he noted with satisfaction, "Well done."

The man should know.

"Great drummer," a friend observed to me. "He never misses a beat."

After one particularly rousing song, "New Lovers' Dance," James announced, "That song was dedicated to Karen," although neither I nor Prabir could hear his explanation why that was.

It's not the why, James (although I'd love to know), it's the act.

Treesa's violin (like Lucas' trumpet in the last band) added an unexpected dimension to the band's already dynamic sound.

To close the show, James pulled out all the stops (meaning his harmonica) and the dancing man was joined by a certain violinist's husband, dancing mightily with his dashing hat in hand.

Nobody was happy when the show ended because everyone was having such a good time..

Waiting in the perennially long post-show bathroom line with other women, I promised the girl behind me I'd be quick.

My bathroom speed has long been legendary.

When I stepped out moments after going in, she bowed to me.

The next girl in line was even more direct.

"We should all buy you a shot!" she exclaimed, speaking of herself and the others still in line.

Yea, you should, honey.

But we're still operating in holiday mode, so I'll let it slide.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Musique Rock in the Afternoon

Everyone should be so lucky.

My neighborhood record store was presenting music today on this third day of the holiday weekend, with Malhombre playing to tout their single release.

I'd yet to hear Malhombre but since the band is comprised of Blasco (whom I first saw at the Listening Room over two years ago) and Giustino Riccio (whom I know well from Fuzzy Baby, Bio Ritmo, the Garbers), I'd heard the parts.

Now it was time for the sum.

I walked in to find a friend looking cute in her new thrift store outfit and we passed time waiting for the band to set up talking about thrift stores and perusing vinyl.

In a continental touch, over in the corner they were serving mimosas.

In the "Holiday" section, we found all kinds of childhood memories - Johnny Mathis. Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole, Elvis, the Supremes- and some not-so-familiar ones ("Disco Holidays"?).

My memories of seeing Blasco were that many of his songs were in French and that he had a wonderful smoldering dark quality to his music and presence.

This afternoon, I got all that and more because Malhombre rocked more than he did solo.

And why not with the very talented Giustino drumming?

To introduce their single, Blasco said, "This is the song on the single that you will want to buy."

He didn't even tell us it was a red vinyl single.

Sung in French, "Musique Rock" was a kick-ass song that took Blasco beyond the emotive singer-songwriter I'd previously seen.

"Lies" was introduced as, "I wrote this song after seeing a movie called "Romantico," a documentary about romantic music. I thought I'd try to write a song like that."

The resulting "Lies" sounded like heartbreak set to guitar and drums.

Just beautiful.

I think you nailed that one, my friend.

Another song began with the surfiest of guitars which alternated with dark, brooding parts and full-on rock.

After every song, Blasco would look up expectantly, as if trying to gauge the crowd's reaction to his material.

Let's just say people were going over to the counter to purchase the single even while he was still playing.

When Malhombre finished up their set in the sunlight-filled record store, we'd been treated to a set of music best described as French with Spanish roots (he emigrated from France in the '90s) with a sharp turn into rock territory.

Giustino and Blasco created a whole lot of sound for just two people, but then they're both awfully talented people.

Me, I'm just one of the lucky ones who spent my Saturday afternoon listening to their multi-lingual rocking out.

Jackson Ward can be so continental, you know?

Once is Never Enough

If you're going to repeat yourself, at least repeat good things.

To start it was random compliments and heartfelt gratitude and isn't that why any girl goes to her local art museum?

Walking in the VMFA's Boulevard (and my favorite) entrance, the guard greets us.

I do the same, adding in questions about the museum's attendance today.

"We had a lot of people here earlier today, but they've gone home. We sent them out into the night," he explained.

I made a crack about visiting relatives and the desire to escape and he agreed and as I make for the hallway to leave, he casually observes apropos of nothing, "Those are nifty tights, by the way."

It may very well be my first time I was complimented as "nifty."

After scoring our Chihuly tickets, we head downstairs for some glass.

I've already seen the show, here,  but I was a willing second-timer here with a Chihuly virgin.

We began with those glorious Venetian balls in a rowboat before moving on to the "Persian Ceiling."

Waling in to the gallery, my jaw dropped as we watched three women walk into the gallery, never so much as look up, and pass right through as if a suspended ceiling holding 1,000 (yes, one thousand!) glass objects wasn't directly over their heads.

Maybe they missed the signage and maybe not.

Still, whoa.

It was then that I remembered the artist's recommendation for the best way to see the "Persian Ceiling."

You got it; I stretched out on the floor so as to have an optimum vantage point for the assemblage of Chihuly glass overhead.

Then a funny thing happened.

My date laid down.

Then another couple. And a young guy. And...

Before all was said and done, seven other people followed my lead and got horizontal with the floor, just like I had.

From somewhere near the front of the gallery, a voice called out, "Thank you!"

"You're welcome," I answered, not the least bit afraid I wasn't the intended complimentee.

Moments later, a VMFA guard walked into the room and announced, "You have to get up. I can't let you lay on the floor."

Oh, can't you? Are we really a threat stretched out on the floor?

To our rescue came a man who'd declined to get down for fear he couldn't get up.

"Just let me take a picture," he said commandingly and the very young guard ceded power to him.

None of us hurried to get up (what was the guard going to do, after all?) but eventually we unwound our supine bodies and rejoined the vertical.

Moving through the exhibit, an occasional stranger would smile or nod at me and I had to presume it was someone who had joined me on the floor.

After our encounter of the Chihuly kind, we did the logical thing and walked upstairs to Amuse for a glass.

We'd timed it perfectly.

There was plenty of room at the bar and the dining room was just beginning to fill up.

The bartender confirmed what I already suspected; Amuse had been a madhouse today.

"It was crazy, our busiest day other than Mother's Day," she said wearily, but with a smile on her face.

Whoa. Glad we'd missed the masses.

With a bottle of Portuguese Tinto Rioja, we sampled the amuse bouche, a white bean puree with micro-greens on a flat bread.

It was one perfect bite, just as it should be.

From there we went to Rappahannock curry-fried oysters with a cucumber and mint raita and pickled veggies.

After copious amounts of raw Rappahannock River oysters to start my Thanksgiving day meal yesterday, I  was eager for something different.

The trifecta of curry, cucumber and mint hit a home run in my mouth.

Next up, we did the crispy pork belly with Romesco sauce and fried spinach and were just as delighted.

The fatty belly, sweet Romesco and delightfully crispy spinach made for a an impressive flavor and texture combination.

By this time, the dining room was completely full and we had just enough wine left for dessert.

I used my influence to choose the chocolate pot de creme with amaretto macaroons, for which I was immediately grateful.

The dense pudding begged to be spread on the rich cookies tasting of almonds and coconut.

And, just so you know, chocolate and coconut top my dessert hit parade.

Together, they were sublime. Samoas, anyone?

Sitting at the bar glowing with pleasure after so many stellar tastes, I felt a hand on my back.

"I'm grateful," a woman said, looking directly in my eyes. "That was an amazing experience. I'll always remember that. Thank you."

I seemed to remember her feet near mine when I'd taken to the floor.

Still, I felt pretty full of myself for having created a "happening," not that I had intended for anyone other than me to do it.

And yet they had.

Sometimes it's just about doing what you want and anyone else following is pure gravy.

But then museums close and you have to find new places to do your thing.

Hello, Hi-Steps.

For my second evening with this group of talented local jazz musicians, I made sure to arrive in time to get a good vantage point.

I was happy to find a diverse crowd spanning 20-somethings to probably 50-somethings, all clearly fans of soul music.

Hats were everywhere - a tweed one on bassist Cameron, another on trumpeter Bob and a newsboy cap on trombonist Toby.

Leader Jason in a leather blazer.

Very dapper, indeed.

Lead singer Brittany took it back to the appropriate era with a taupe maxi sweater dress with a yellow ribbon tied at the waist.

Groovy with a capital "G."

There was a new guitarist/male vocalist tonight, doing a fine job trading vocals with Brittany.

It only took the first few notes to remind me how much I enjoy how hard drummer Pinson Chanselle hits the drums.

After the first two songs, bandleader Jason told the crowd, "This is not a spectator sport. I mean, you can watch us if you want, but we'd rather watch you dance."

He was right, of course.

Few spectator sports are as enjoyable as Friday night dancing.

"Ain't Too Proud to Beg" got the room dancing until the break.

A girl I know spotted me and came over to say hello, mentioning that it was her first time at Balliceaux.

Oh honey.

Soon after, a guy walked up to me and started a surprising conversation about flooring.

Seems Balliceaux has glow-in-the-dark floors, the same ones he'd put in his basement around his hot tub.

Then there were the black lights he'd installed down there, he said.

"Pretty '70s, huh?" he snorted, laughing loudly.

Who'd have thought that was a goal?

During "Tired of Being Alone," singer Brittany wasn't needed so she danced along with the the crowd (or her mother, depending on who you listened to).

Nearby, two guys grooved. "I could listen to this song all day," he told his buddy enthusiastically. "On repeat."

Is there any other way?

While the set list had a lot of similarities to the first show I'd seen, all I could focus on was how tight these guys sounded considering they've only played out twice.

Pros. It's that simple.

After "Try a Little Tenderness," guitarist Elliott cracked wise, noting, "And that turkey I had last night, that was tenderness."

Standing nearby me was DJ Mike Murphy, who was playing soul music before, during and after the Hi-Steps.

With the band doing a handful of classics ("Tell Me Something Good," "It's Your Thing," "Chain of Fools") and the crowd singing along, it occurred to me that those were exactly the songs Mike wouldn't play.

Songs like the closer, "Signed, Sealed and Delivered."

Which means both he and the Hi-Steps have the right idea.

If we're going to dance to soul music, let it be to deep cuts on vinyl or else played live.

And, remember, kids, this is not a spectator sport.

But it sure is fun. So fun I put it on repeat.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Rule of Thumb

A 67 degree day is just what every red-blooded American needs after the gluttony and sloth of yesterday's holiday.

Sure, I know lots of people are busy getting their shop on.

I know because on the way home from my turkey dinner in Maryland last night, we passed a Best Buy and a Walmart and the lines were around the stores at 10:00.

Not me.

Instead, I took advantage of such an unexpectedly beautiful day by grabbing the closest sloth and insisting that we head down to Belle Isle.

Crossing the pedestrian bridge to the island, the river looked a brilliant dark blue.

Scores of birds sat on rocks in the middle of the river, sunning themselves.

In the middle of the bridge, I was brought up short by a tribute of flowers and a picture of the 19-year old who'd fallen to his death there Saturday night.

It was a sobering thing to see on an otherwise perfect afternoon.

Walking around the island, we saw people in jackets and hats while we wore shorts and t-shirts.

Back in college, my best friend and I had a rule of thumb: if it was above 65 degrees, it was warm enough to put on our bathing suits and lay out.

And while I'm not that foolhardy (or eager to tan) anymore, it was plenty warm enough for shorts today.

After our first loop of the island, we took the trail to the bridge that crosses to southside, in search of a new pleasure.

We got it when we decided to return to the island without using the bridge.

Walking rock to rock and frequently changing course when an insurmountable boulder presented itself, we climbed, leaped and dropped until we'd made it back across the river.

Just for the record, it was my first crossing of the James River.

I put a hand in the water to check the temperature (cold but not painfully so) so while I wasn't surprised to see dogs fetching sticks in it, I was surprised to see a woman standing in the river up to her waist.

Down at the quarry, we watched as a young girl, tethered and maybe ten years old, climbed the rock wall fearlessly.

We spotted an artist out on the rocks painting en plein air and climbed down to see what he'd wrought.

A landscape of the shore with yellow-leaved trees, rocks and water sat on his portable easel as he continued to dab at it.

I watched a small rock appear from the end of his paintbrush.

Nearby a group was doing a family portrait with what appeared to be a professional.

The photographer had a light on a tripod set up in the water next to a rock.

In front of that was the Asian family being photographed, including the most adorable triplets, maybe three years old and wearing matching argyle vests as they posed on the rock.

One spotted me, turned away from the group and smiled widely, no doubt happy to ignore the commands of the photographer and just smile at whomever he chose.

Or maybe he was just wishing he'd been allowed to wear shorts, too.

It's all in the rules you make for yourself, Son.

Besides, if not now, when?

Upheld and Then Some

If you stay in town for Thanksgiving, you know the drill.

Everybody's off tomorrow, so the bars are full of revelers with no curfew. Hence the night's reputation as the biggest drinking night of the year. Holmes is my go-to T-Day eve partner-in-crime, so I let him know we needed to meet up.

But you don't jump into a night such as this one cold-turkey (pardon seasonal humor), so we decided to convene at Rowland (no longer) Fine Dining to begin. With companions. By the time we arrived, Holmes and his beloved were already ensconced at the bar, putting a serious hurting on a bottle of Prosecco.

A favorite bartender was working, meaning we had great service and the equivalent of an extra friend with us. As if the impending holiday wasn't excuse enough, tonight was half off bottles of wine, so there was added incentive to drink. Over a jammy Las Rocas red blend, we checked out the new menu, with its wide array of small plates and reasonably priced entrees.

Wise move, Rowlands.

The restaurant had a chill vibe tonight with a few other regulars at the bar, an eight top that came in loopy and proceeded to get louder and loopier and two random couples at opposite ends of the room. A fine mix of separate parties, each having their own good time.

The bartender and I discussed the recent Chicha Libre show where we'd last run into each other. I laughed when she told me that she'd held back on her crazy dancing once she saw me there. As if I'd judge someone for any kind of dancing, much less just-got-off-work-dying-to-let-loose dancing.

Honey, never hold back because of me.

That business taken care of, my date and I moved on to Gordo's seafood gumbo, a deep-tasting dark roux with shrimp over a mound of rice. Usually a special, it's been added to the regular menu now, a good thing because it's a spicy and hearty dish, perfect for a cold night.

Since our little group was stretched across the length of the bar to eat, four-way conversation was challenging. But Thanksgiving eve celebrants are up to whatever the evening hands them. They'd seen the Chihuly show at VMFA since I'd last seen them, so colored glass discussion naturally followed.

Holmes had been away in Pat Robertson land and had missed Beaujolais Nouveau tastings, so he regaled us with his tales of hunting down the new wine since his return. I mentioned the sign I'd seen in an ABC store window this morning advertising black Friday sales on booze. That got Holmes' attention. And our bartender's.

Leaning over toward our conversation pit, she arched an eyebrow and asked, "Like what kind of sale? Do I need to be up?" Personally, nothing's getting me out of bed early post-turkey, so I felt unqualified to answer that.  Everyone's got their own incentives and mine is not to judge.

Mine is to eat.

Delivering Amarone slow braised short rubs with herbed Parmesan gnocchi, our bartender did her best Pepe LePew accent, saying, "Le ribs, short," and leaving us to devour the long-cooked ribs, delectable with bits of fat and the lightest of gnocchis.

Dessert was chocolate cake with whipped vanilla cream and Manon rose and by the time we finished, we were the last occupants of the restaurant. What, again?

Since it was far too early to give up on the biggest drinking night of the year, we motored to Holmes' Hideaway where the evening progressed with more pink wine and better music. Holmes, ever the musician, played some of his own recordings, along with late '60s Fleetwood Mac as we continued to sip and chat until Turkey Day had arrived. And then some.

But if you're going to stay in town for the evening, you've got a certain responsibility to the night to uphold. Not to mention the ideal meal to eat the next day to recover from it.

Bring it on.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Saddle Up and Follow Me

I played follow the leader for a novel walking experience today.

Coming back east on Grace, I paused at Meadow and saw two mounted policemen emerging from the alley, headed for the next alley.

Cue walker to join the horse queue.

Walking down sun-dappled alleys behind two horses on a crisp fall morning, it occurred to me that Spielberg had missed an opportunity.

The Washington Post recently ran a piece about the great lengths the director went to in recreating historical sounds for "Lincoln."

An original watch of Lincoln's was used to simulate a pendulum.

The squeak of latches at the White House were recorded and used.

Also, the ring of the bell at the church he attended.

All well and good.

But the sound of horse hooves on cobblestones that I was hearing today would have been an ideal one to record for the movie.

There is such a beautiful cadence, an historical rhythm to the sound of horses clopping.

Passing a couple smoking cigarettes in the alley, the girl smiled and asked me, "Trying to keep up?"

As I followed my equine lead admiring their graceful and sinuous gaits, I kept hoping that they'd lead me all the way back to Jackson Ward.

But it was not to be.

When we got to Ryland, they told me they were going to loop around and head back west.

When I told them how much I enjoyed their regular visits to my neighborhood, one grinned and said, "Yea, but we gotta spread it around."

I'm hoping they were talking about mounted squad good will and not horse pies.

But what I'm really hoping is for a chance to follow them again.

Saudade for a Flip Phone

You know, the traditional gift for a third anniversary is leather.

Tonight was the third anniversary installment of the Listening Room and I counted myself among a very few who were there on that first night at the Michaux House, but I saw no obvious celebration leather.

Instead, I saw lots of new faces for the monthly installment of music that requires rapt attention and absolute silence from the audience.

After a proper mingling period with cookies (raspberry chocolate brownies and pecan sandies, oh, my!) and long-lost greetings (I missed last month's performance while in Italy), the show began.

Emcee Chris, with his newly shorn locks, waxed nostalgic about the early Listening Room days before the first act began.

Daniel Levi Goans and his wife Laura seemed glad to be here, saying, "This is an ideal environment for us to be heard."

They did a Dylan cover for a friend who was seeing Dylan tonight, with Daniel noting, "71 and still got it. Bob Dylan, not me."

"Obviously," his wife Laura said from the stage floor.

It takes a good woman to keep a man in line.

Laura had also made songbooks for the attendeea with each song numbered so we could follow along.

It could have been a little like hymn numbers on a chart in church, except I don't actually know that for sure.

Introducing the song "Enemies," Daniel observed, "This is a song from a real and true story. Hope I remember the ending."

For the record, he seemed to.

I learned about the Portuguese word "saudade" and the longing it implies, so I'd have to say that the Listening Room makes you smarter.

Favorite lyric: "Symphonies of sideways glances, Hands grazed and midnight romances."

During the break, I said hello to the poet and her visiting admirer, the scientist in shorts on this November night, the running sax player and the smiling beekeeper who joined us in the second row.

You see the most interesting people at the Listening Room.

The second act had nostalgic value because the Low Branches had played that very first Listening Room.

As singer Christina admitted, "It was our first Listening Room and probably my fourth time singing out."

Well, judging by how her voice and stage presence have matured, I'd say that the L.R. made for a wonderfully auspicious start for her Richmond career.

Josh was playing electric bass tonight instead of cello, as always adding a depth to their stripped-down sound.

Christina said he was also the one mixing and producing their new album, "One Hundred Years Old," due out at the end of January.

Mid-song, Christina stopped singing and said, "There's an echo. It sounds like there's a lot of us up here."

A minor adjustment, she started up again and it sounded like Matt, Christina and Josh again, the echo faded away.

With a voice as beautiful and hushed as hers, echo is unwanted.

"It's really great to have you with us," Christina said before their last song. "Friends, new friends and friends of friends."

That's about as good a summation of the family tree of the Listening Room as I've ever heard.

The good-sized crowd milled around during the break, brought back to their seats when Chris began talking from the stage.

Next thing, organizer Jonathan was walking onstage with his phone open and in hand.

"Is that flip phone?" a young attendee asked incredulously.

Yes, it was, youngster.

On the line and being amplified through the mic from Portland, Oregon was Chris Edwards, one of the L.R. founders and the original emcee.

"Chris, you're onstage again," Chris 2 told him.

"Oh, god!" Chris 1 responded, clearly surprised.

"We wanted to make you part of our third anniversary," Chris said and applause broke out for the L.R.'s original and well-spoken emcee.

Dave Watkins played third and he surprised long time fans like me by announcing, "I actually have a set list. If you've seen me before, you know that's..." and fading out.

"Unheard of?" asked a loud-mouth woman in the second row.

Okay, I asked that but he agreed.

Dave was playing his acoustic dulcitar, looping endlessly and wowing old and new fans.

He introduced "Pangea's Revenge" as a song written for a girl from Scotland he met in Richmond.

As many times as I've heard him sing that song, I hadn't known its starting point.

You have to admire a man who reacts to not being to drive or ride his bike to see a girl by writing a song about the super-continent.

From Scottish lasses to Scottish bands, Dave covered Mogwai's "Helicon 2," much to the delight of Mogwai fans like my friend's cute husband.

He also referenced the Colloquial Orchestra as, "A band I'm in with everyone else in Richmond."

Several of them were in attendance tonight, like the violinist who usually ends their set by writhing on the floor.

Dave surprised us all by taking out his guitar and playing the song he'd written for his high school talent show, "Square Peg, Round Hole" ("It's pretty wacky") with great flamenco-like flourishes and tapping the body of the guitar.

If you know Dave, you weren't surprised that he won or that he used the prize money  to buy prom tickets.

That's a hell of a date, ladies, talented and practical.

He finished with "Marshall Street" from his latest CD and my personal favorite on the album.

It began with Dave looping dulcitar, including blowing into the body, and then he went on to drum madly.

Just as the song was coming to a rambunctious end, his glasses slid off his face and landed on the stage.

Best. Finish. Ever.

I only wish I'd had some leather to show my appreciation for three fine years.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Sex and Poetry

Just in case we're nearing the end of an era, it was an Avenues kind of an evening.

The plan was to see "The Sessions," which was playing at Bowtie and Westhampton.

But just in case the imminent demise of the Westhampton is more than a rumor, I wanted to see it there.

Especially now that power tools are buzzing inside that building in the Bowtie parking lot that's supposed to be turned into an art house,

So I decided to go whole (West End) hog and eat at the Continental first.

I've been there so I knew about the out-sized portions, overly bright lighting and lame soundtrack, but it sure is convenient.

Actually, by going on a Monday, the crowd wasn't unmanageable as on some past visits.

But the music was a schizophrenic mix that swung from Sam Cook to Human League with Journey in between and really pretty awful.

When I inquired about its source, our very young bartender was wildly enthusiastic about it, so I didn't dare burst his bubble.

My Titanic was merely a wedge salad of Titanic proportions, but the bacon was generous and the bleu cheese dressing decent, so that was a score.

I tried a bite of banana rum flan but found it to be not to my taste so my companion scarfed it all.

I found compensation in a box of Sno-caps when we arrived next door for the movie.

Inside the theater, we were one of four duos in the place, meaning we felt like we were at a private screening.

Which was ideal for a movie about a disabled man using a sex surrogate.

Seriously, there was a lot of sex in the movie, all of it calmly explained by the surrogate as she helped a middle-aged man lose his virginity.

And may I just say that for a 49-year old woman, Helen Hunt is looking pretty damn good naked.

Humor abounded with lines like, "Germany, the only place in the world where humor is forbidden."

As a justification for believing in religion, the man says, "I find it absolutely intolerable not to be able to blame someone."

It's not going to make me believe in religion any time soon, but it did make me laugh out loud.

The story of a poet and journalist crippled by polio deciding to get a little action (his "sell-by" date was approaching) was beautifully acted, told without sentimentality and completely uplifting even though he dies at the end.

But not before a poignant discussion of what's important in life and that boiled down to poetry and sex.

Beyond that, the characters decide, is nothing or everything and it's all negotiable.

Now there's a concept I can get behind.

I think that'll be my religion.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Thankful for All That Jazz

What am I thankful for?

I am thankful for the Ghost Light Afterparty and their first GLAPS-giving.

I am thankful when the host, Matt, comes onstage in a a feathered breast plate and golden ankle-wraps with four-inch heels.

I am thankful when co-host Maggie is dressed as a slutty Pilgrim, right down to the buckles on her shoes.

I am thankful when musical guest Grey Garrett is dressed in braids and a brown pashima, fashioned to look like Pocahontas (or poke-a-hot-ass, as one guest observed).

I'm even thankful when the background for the evening is a hot pink set with silver glitter letters and stars spelling out, "Whoop-Dee-Do!," the name of Richmond Triangle Players' newest show.

You can never go wrong with silver lame curtains, at least at GLAP.

Reminding us that the first song of the night is always tragic because he sings it, Matt launched into "I'm Like a Bird."

The big news to be thankful for was that a documentary is being made about the GLAP, so all god's children can experience the wonder that is the GLAP without staying up until 1 a.m. on a Sunday night.

Not there's anything woring with that.

Garrett, currently starring in the Irving Berlin-ful "I Love a Piano" shared her exquisite voice by singing a smoldering version of "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered."

Next up was Kent, who complained that his contract stipulated he never has to go on after a performer like Garrett, before doing "But I'm Here," and changing the lyrics to fit RVA.

"I been through Westover Hills and I'm here."

Piano whiz Ben got up to play and sing, asking, "You want a funny song or a Billy Joel?"

"What's the difference?" a nearby audience member yelled before we heard a song about that magic kingdom in the sky.

You know the one.

David got up, saying he was going to use some of his acting in his song, a very good thing since I've seen his acting and it always impresses me.

The song may have been from "Les Miz" but the important thing was that it finished with jazz hands.

"Thank you very much," he said. "I've never sung that outside my shower."

I was thankful for the Thanksgiving band, a motley crew on tambourine, shaker balls and homemade bongos.

Host Matt struck a particularly fetching sitting pose (as he is wont to do), sliding his gold-shod feet and legs to the side (the better to display them?) and bongo-ing away.

Maggie did "Big Yellow Taxi" with the Thanksgiving band.

The 20 questions with Grey Garret answering Matt's questions yielded some hysterical answers.

Her fave shower song? "Oklahoma."

Fave car song? "Anything by Diana Ross," setting off empathetic oohs from the crowd.

A choice of Maggie or Matt had her leaning in and smiling to coo Matt's name at him.

Dream date? "We're gonna do it."

She described theater as "loud, smiling, addictive" and sex as "terrible, disappointing and no."

"I'm sorry!" yelled a wiseass in the audience when she said that.

Grey did an amazing version of Berlin's "Supper Time," causing the audience to go crazy and Matt to say, "Alright, folks. That's it. We're done."

It's hard to beat Irving Berlin tunes and a great voice.

God knows I was thankful when Evan abandoned his bartending duties to take the keyboard and belt out "Bad Touch" with the mic between his legs.

You and me, baby, ain't nothing but mammals
So let's do it like they do it on the discovery channel

The requisite Mad Lib with smutty fill-ins benefited from using the song "The Man That Got Away," although some of the more ribald lyrics caused Grey to pause to regain her composure.

I'm thankful that my adjective made it into the Mad Lib version.

"It's all a juicy game."

That was my juicy.

"A one gangbang woman looking for the twat-wattle that got away."

Hey, I didn't say I was thankful for high brow entertainment, did I?

Marissa, a self-proclaimed "Italian from Buffalo" who'd recently gone through a bad breakup, played guitar and sang "Crazy."

Things got very Disney after a while with Molly doing "Beauty and the Beat" in her best Angela Lansbury imitation and Ben calling out the dialog ("From the original Broadway recording!" he joked).

By this time, Maggie's pilgrim ensemble had morphed into a 90s riot grrrl with a red plaid shirt, combat boots and her short black tulle skirt.

Childhood continued with Ben and Audra doing "A Whole New World" and the audience singing along like they were still in elementary school.

Grey did "Colors of the Wind" while Molly lip-synched along with her onstage and the audience cheered and clapped.

"A team of people made that happen," Grey said at the end, laughing.

When Sarah got up to sing, she asked Matt if she should use the mic and he was cavalier.

"It's up to you," he said, marching off, drink in hand. "Make your own adventure.'

Drag queen Stormy Sanders came onstage for Daniel to sing "Wonderwall" and Matt to exhort, "Yea, you better rock that lighter in the back row!"

The fabulous finish was "Hit Me Baby One More Time" which started as a small thing and grew as people sought to join the big finale.

Flannel-clad Maggie grabbed a tambourine. Matt danced his non-existent ass off. David took a flying leap up to jump onstage. Evan belted.

I'm thankful people make their own adventures at GLAP.

I's even go so far as to say it wouldn't be GLAPS-giving without it.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Get Your Tootsie-Frootsie

A day at the races required a morning out of bed.

I'd invited a Marx Brothers enthusiast to join me at Movieland for "A Day at the Races," a movie I'd never seen.

No, not on TV, not on tape or disc. Just never saw it.

But today I was out of bed at an unattractive hour (9:50 on a Sunday?) to walk to the Bowtie and be entertained.

And, I gotta say, for an 11:00 movie, there were more people than I expected.

A surprising number of couples, first of all.

And lots of guys laughing uproariously at every Groucho-ism uttered.

Like, "Emily, I have a confession to make.I really am a horse doctor. But marry me and I'll never look at another horse."

Guffawing abounded with this crowd.

And while a lot of the corny humor got little response from me, I was delighted to be surprised more than once during he film.

An entire ballet scene.

Extended music numbers, one with Chico playing piano and another with Harpo doing the same, at least until bits of the piano began flying off and he resorted to the strings in a harp performance.

Then there was the amazing and mildly politically incorrect scene with the large black contingent of first children dancing followed by a full-on swing number complete with musicians and Lindy Hop dancers.

Never saw that coming.

A full-on black cast dancing, jiving, swinging, making for the highlight of the movie.

And because it was 1937, it ended with the Marx Brothers in blackface.

But the singing and dancing parts were great.

And I loved the portrayal of a nightclub, the Water Carnival.

Guests at tables floating on the water. The band had water surrounding the stage.

It was exotic, it was elaborate. It was pure Hollywood.

And pure Marx Brothers.

You know, corny.

"If I hold you any closer, I'll be in back of you."

I'm laughing already. But I'm not going to stop looking at horses.

Absent Chuck

Bad news doesn't always travel fast.

Oregon Hill's Chuckwagon, the neighborhood dive bar beloved by certain locals, has been history for how long, four, five years?

And yet when my partner in crime and I planted our butts in barstools at EAT Oregon Hill tonight, we found ourselves next to two good old boys looking for the 'Wagon.

One of the two got friendly with us, joking about the mostly empty carafe in front of me.

"Gosh, you sure drank that fast," he says, smiling and showing his missing teeth. "That's a joke!"

Where do I go from there?

The bartender was the one who informed us of the guys' mission to revisit the Chuckwagon, much to their disappointment.

He described the 'Wagon as a "knock-down, drag-out bar," at least on certain nights.

And, yes I was asked, and no I hadn't ever been to the Chuckwagon.

They asked about the "fancy food" EAT serves and we obliged with glowing talk of past meals.

They soon left and we forged forward with dinner.

A bowl of white bean minestrone was stellar, well-seasoned and with lots of body, to start.

Next it wouldn't have mattered what was under the glaze of garlic/soy/chili, but as it turned out, it was  a Korean-style game hen half.

The fried chicken came with "kimkraut" and a carrot ginger puree that could make a veggie hater ask for more.

We paired that with broccoli rabe from the Dog House, the Sausagecraft dog with cheese in it, because it doesn't really need it.

That's a satisfying dog with caramelized onions, pickled mustard seed and roasted tomato aioli.

Since the dessert section of the menu is still "under construction," we listened for what was available.

Apple crisp with housemade white cheddar ice cream could have skated by simply as a neo-Eisenhower- era novelty, but the delicacy of the ice cream and the perfect chunks of crisp topping made it the kind of dessert this chocoholic would recommend.

And speaking of mid-century classics, we had a 1949 Pulitzer and Tony award winning play to see.

Wiping ourselves free of crisp crumbs, we were off to the Firehouse Theater for "Death of a Salesman."

As a classic piece of American theater, I was thrilled to finally get to see it performed live.

And, I'm ashamed to say, I had only the most basic understanding of the story.

So I knew it was a bummer, but it also had a lot of that post-WWII disillusion that resulted in all kinds of art forms.

What reminded me of a more current generation?

"My solution is I never take any interest in anything."

What reassured me that I'll be fine?

"Personality always wins the day."

Joe Inscoe was the beaten-down Willy Loman, a character completely unlike any actual 60-year old I know, but then it isn't 1949 anymore.

The claustrophobic set evoked their similar Brooklyn apartment.

My favorite part of it was the screen door (although it didn't elicit the same satisfying sound), evoking as it did the one I had on Floyd Avenue for thirteen years.

With a strong cast, the unfolding of Willy's unfortunate end played out emotionally, with just enough humor to hang on.

I think it was during intermission that it occurred to me how happy I was to be enjoying this well-acted, classic piece of American theater less than a mile from home.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying this place is perfect.

God knows, we don't have enough knock-down, drag-out bars anymore.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Rabbit Potpie Face

Tonight was what you call delayed gratification with a tinge of regret.

Right after Labor Day, I'd gotten a ticket to a show at the Black Cat, anticipating seeing one of my favorite Portland bands.

Wouldn't you just know that all kinds of amazing shows had since been scheduled for tonight in Richmond?

But I gathered two fellow Helio Sequence lovers and we embarked for the nation's capital anyway.

Luck was with us when we found a parking space barely two blocks from the club.

It followed us into Bar Pilar where we were told we could be seated immediately in the last table available.

The hardest part of the evening was deciding what to eat off a menu with all kinds of appetizing offerings.

Lard-fried buttermilk chicken? Grilled sweetbreads? Duck pho?

It was a pleasure to have to work so hard at choosing.

We started with the house roasted mixed nuts, enjoying our oily fingers as much as the salt/spice blend that satisfied on so many levels.

In the interest of our arteries and the night ahead, we had roasted beets with mixed greens, walnuts, citrus and goat cheese.

Mid-bite I learned that it was one of our party's first beets.

Horrors!

That's the second time in less than a year that I've been party to someone's first beets.

Our next course was stellar: braised oxtail with mashed sweet potato, a housemade half-smoke with onions and spicy mustard and rabbit potpie.

I got the lion's share of the potpie, mainly because the potpie fanatic claimed she tasted her childhood pet rabbit in it.

She did, however, manage to abscond with a healthy share of the peas, potatoes, carrots and flaky pie crust.

Being a native Washingtonian, I am a huge fan of the half smoke, with its coarse meat and large size, and this one especially because it was housemade.

It is such a pleasure to enjoy the meat-making revival going on in my lifetime.

I was drinking a delightful Negroamaro with the meal and a corner view to a floor of a Washington eatery at 8 on a Friday night.

We certainly weren't in Richmond anymore.

Desserts were only $6 so we got three, all with housemade gelato: buttermilk pie with raspberry , chocolate torte with  pumpkin and an apple turnover the size of a doll's head (really a whole apple baked en croute) with vanilla.

Good thing the rest of the night involved standing.

Ramona Falls, another from Portlandia, was opening for Helio Sequence.

"Welcome, people of D.C. We know you're here to see Helio Sequence so we're going to pork barrel on them."

Pork barrel away, guys. I thoroughly enjoyed their mix of effects-laden violin (she looked like a young Pat Benetar and had such a violin game face) , drums, bass, guitar, keyboards and mandolin.

After the first few songs, the drummer (and, a bit surprisingly, the spokesperson for the band) shrugged and said to the crowd, "You're messing with our set list. We love your punctuality but we're caught off guard. We didn't think you'd be here yet," explaining that the list would have been different knowing people came to hear them.

It was endearing.

Songs were introduced as "a pop number" or "a tender song" and always delivered as promised.

I saw a few people singing along to every word, but most seemed, like me, to be won over tonight.

"We have two more songs before the Helio Sequence rock concert begins," the magnificently-Afro'd drummer joked. "Like most good songs, it starts with a tambourine."

I was sorry to see them go.

It was my third time seeing Helio Sequence and the last time in Charlottesville had its issues.

The sound had been terrible and guitarist/singer Brandon had not been happy about it.

But he was in fine voice and mood tonight as they played through most of "Keep Your Eyes Ahead" and some of the new "Negotiations."

"This is our second to last night of this three-month tour," Brandon said by way of hello. "It's great to see you guys."

Despite the room being much bigger and the crowd several times what it's been the last couple of times I saw them, we were near enough to the front to have great views.

Drummer Benjamin is a force of nature on the drums. Because they're a duo, there's a lot of space to fill musically, and his frenetic drumming is like watching an octopus doing it.

And he makes the most amazing drummer faces while doing it.

His synth parts came courtesy of a laptop while Brandon gave us guitars, harmonica and vocals.

As the pea-eater observed, "It's a lot of sound for two people."

But beautiful, poppy sound with a Dylan-esque bend to the vocals, psychedelic guitars and percussion to die for.

The exquisite "Lately" had people singing along when really, I would have preferred to hear the band.

But everyone's lived that lyric.

Lately, I don't think of you at all
Or wonder what you're up to or how you're getting on

I noticed the drummer from Ramona Falls standing to the side of the stage smiling and studying, apparently mesmerized by Benjamin in some parts.

Damn skippy.

Even on my third time seeing them, it's still an audio and visual treat to watch that small guy sweat out his body weight providing accents and endless cymbal crashing for an hour and a half to such an evocative voice.

By the time we rolled out onto 14th Street, I was fully gratified, but still had a tinge of regret.

I'd missed a great show in Richmond, I've no doubt.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Crazy Enough

Alright, so I'm a little late to the Bombolini party.

But after yet another friend raved about her lunch there, I found myself a lunch buddy to check it out.

Walking down Main Street, I ran into my favorite line cook, who raved about the sandwiches, mentioning the "crazy" hours.

Not so crazy. Every day but Sunday, open at 11 and closed by 6 or 7.

The first order of business on arrival was checking out the market portion of the place.

That meant tasting housemade vinegars (the Cabernet Franc and the Vioginer vinegars). seeing which wines and olives they had.

I'm not a pasta person, but after pasta in Italy, I am paying a little more attention.

Whole wheat made me happy, as did spinach and I know a couple of people who are no doubt thrilled with gluten-free options.

I especially enjoyed seeing a pasta machine cranking out spirals of fussili with the afternoon light shining from through south-facing glass.

It seemed so productive while those of us in the shop seemed to be in a Friday mood.

Pressed sandwiches were procured and paninis of turkey and Cuban pork and iced tea were taken to one of the small tables just outside the front door.

Friend had been right about the food.

One of the guys from the shop came out and told us we had the sweet spot for that neo-patio space this time of year.

He wasn't telling us anything we hadn't figured out, instead saying it in a convivial, "wish I could join you" sort of way.

What a nice little party.

Life Outside My Aprtment

To paraphrase Kate Monster, I like romantic things like music and art and food.

Kate Monster was one of the myriad characters in VCU Theater's production of "Avenue Q: The Musical."

That's the irreverent and unabashedly politically incorrect one that uses puppets and actors to express what's going on.

I met a friend, I brought a friend and I laughed a lot at the story of  the generation raised to think they were special, only to find in the real world that they really aren't such a big deal.

From the hysterical opening notes of "Sucks to Be Me," a song about finding your way in the world armed only with a degree in English, the crowd was laughing.

It's like going naked to a party. You really can't be prepared for what might happen to you.

VCU's production had drawn a great crowd tonight, old and young and almost completely full.

Using two screens that showed "Avenue Q" programming (think "Sesame Street" meets "The Electric Company"), we saw takeoffs on important concepts.

Like, "A purpose is direction to your life," a concept echoed by the singing cardboard boxes.

It was relevant because Princeton was looking for a direction in his life. Aren't we all?

Or 1,2,3,4,5 nightstands. Take four away and you have a one night stand.

Lesson learned.

There were the "Bad Idea Bears," those pesky voices that tell us to celebrate when we should be making wise choices instead.

Characters were aptly named - Mrs. Fizzletwat, Lucy the Slut - with hilarious lines to deliver.

"My friend isn't an artist, he's a Republican."

Because, you know, the two are mutually exclusive.

Given the generation being skewered in the movie, it was no surprise when Princeton made a mix tape to prove his interest in Kate Monster.

The play used puppets as a way of expressing the characters' feelings and words and it was fascinating to adjust to which of the two you watched when any given actor was speaking.

In some cases, your eyes were riveted by the puppet and other times, the actor made sure you noticed him or her instead of the puppet.

I liked how the puppets imitated whatever the actor did, whether smacking his head or looking bewildered.

Or having sex.

Oh, yes, these puppets definitely got it on. And not just in the missionary position.

"I dated a monster once, but I got tired of picking fur out of my teeth."

Just to be clear there were also truisms, like, "Crabby bitches are the bedrock of this nation."

During intermission in the bathroom, I heard a woman say she was visiting from San Francisco and had come to see the play with her nephew.

Not a bad evening in Richmond, I wanted to tell her.

A song that delivered many laughs was "The More You Love Someone," with lines like, "The more you love someone, the more you want to kill him."

Truth in theater.

In a clever nod to reality, during the song "School for Monsters," where they were asking for donations for an important project, the cast moved into the audience, seeking donations for Richmond's Freedom House.

Serve the script, serve the community. Bravo, VCU.

The point of the song was that it feels good to do for others and we got our very own life lesson on that subject during that number.

But mostly I loved all the whining that the characters did as they learned the harsh realities of life.

Things like, why does life have to be so hard? 

And the internet is for porn.

And my fave song title: "There is Life Outside Your Apartment."

Perhaps because I wasn't the generation being skewered, I found myself laughing long and hard throughout the play.

With a live band, appealing puppets and a cast all but bursting with youthful exuberance, the evening's entertainment ended up being a play I will tell all my friends to see before it closes on December 2.

When the play ended, I tried to talk a friend into joining us for duck fat, but she had an early morning ahead.

So it was that only two of us Avenue Q graduates went to Belmont Food Shop for post-theater explorations.

I'd heard tell of a cook's menu after 9:30 and I wanted to know what was on it.

When we rolled in, we found a few industry types at the bar and we joined them for Blauer Zweigelt Skeleton, a fine peppery red for a cold night.

The good news was that the cook's menu was available, so we began at the top with duck confit, which arrived with a frisee and clementine salad and a clementine puree.

The fatty goodness of the confit was obscenely rich, made all the better with the peppery contrast of the greens and tang of the citrus.

We could have stopped there, but with chicken liver mousse calling, we said yes and the delicate mousse with matchstick apples on top turned out to be a brilliant choice and a decadent treat.

Don't tell me you don't like chicken livers until you've had Belmont's mousse.

As we sat listening to '20s music ("Would you like to dance?" I was asked), we got to talking wine with the bartender, leading us straight to talk of orange wine.

Since I'd just yesterday been discussing an orange wine tasting with a friend, I was thrilled when the bartender offered to let us taste one.

Looking decidedly coral in color, the white wine was so dry and tannic as to be surprising after its floral nose.

And floral led to thoughts of sweet and next thing you know, we were thinking dessert.

Not that we needed it, but who can resist a housemade dark chocolate silk pie?

With a chocolate cookie crust and a (there's no other way to say it) silky texture, it had the unexpected benefit of being surrounded by elderflower gele and a raspberry puree.

The delicate notes of the elderflower made for a distinctive flavor combination.

When the owner came out, I told him how much I was enjoying the cook's menu in particular and the idea of it in general.

He said he was trying it to have a chance to try some more offbeat menu items after the dinner rush.

A stop, so to speak, on the way to somewhere else, perhaps to imbibe.

As someone who often does something early in the evening, the idea of a place with taste delights like grilled lamb's heart and duck confit afterwards is music to my ears.

Twenties music, that is.

It certainly doesn't suck to be me.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Women Make It Happen

You know, just another Wednesday night.

In lieu of cocktail hour, I was at the Virginia Historical Society for Daniel Okrent's talk on "Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition." You know what Okrent wanted to call the book? "How the Hell Did That Happen?"

Truly. How the hell did this country ever think that 14 years without legal booze was going to be a good idea?

Most interesting fact gleaned from the talk? Women made Prohibition happen and women made it go away.

Okrent did a nice job tying up the factors that led to a dry (as if) country: The women's suffrage movement, the institution of the income tax and WW I starting. If we were going to hate the Germans because of the war, we couldn't very well be drinking beer, now could we?

And you know who fought Prohibition? The Catholics and the Jews. The Irish and the Italians. As an Irish Catholic (at least by birth), I'll take credit for my people keeping their heads when all around were losing them.

Winston Churchill called Prohibition, "An insult to the entire history of mankind." That insult led to speakeasies, which made for a cultural revolution. Instead of male-dominated saloons, women helped populate speakeasies so the rules had to change a bit.

Women being present is why table service began. Why food in bars improved. Why powder rooms were added. Feel free to thank the next woman you see.

Okrent said that the curb put on American drinking during Prohibition lasted for generations. In fact, it wasn't until 1972 that we finally got back to pre-Prohibition drinking levels. I only wish I'd been old enough to help the cause.

During the Q & A, the first question was about drug use. Okrent laughed, saying he had bet someone earlier that one of the first three  questions would be about drug use. Drink, drugs, I guess that's just what was on peoples minds at the VHS tonight.

With the repeal of the Prohibition amendment in 1933, we moved forward in time  to the forties at the Cultural Arts Center at Glen Allen. The On the Air Radio Players were doing two radio plays from the golden age of radio, Fiber McGee and Molly and a Jack Benny program.

First the announcer taught us to clap when the applause sign came on (extra fast clapping sounds like more people, so we clapped furiously) so we could fulfill our audience duties.

The program was called "Frugal Confessions" and was a tribute to a time "when people were proud to be cheap." You know, cheap is chic and tight is right.

The 1941 "Fibber Gets his Hand Caught in a Bottle" was about hapless Fibber trying to steal 35 cents left in a milk bottle and his travails getting it off. "Jack Benny Loses $4.75 at the Race Track" had the long-suffering Benny unable to stop obsessing about his monetary loss, especially when his friends had won.

Both plays were read by people with terrific voices, countless dialects and two sound effects people who slammed doors, knocked and walked shoes to make the appropriate sounds.

It was an old-school production that will naturally be made into a podcast for modern audiences. Let's just say I prefer seeing it done live.

As we got closer to midnight and the advent of the third Thursday in November, we knew it was time to get to Amour Wine Bistro. Le Beaujolais nouveau est arrive!

And while no one is going to get excited about drinking beaujolais nouveau for long (except maybe Holmes and he's in Las Vegas), the third Thursday opening of the new harvest is a delightful excuse to start drinking at midnight.

We got good seats at the bar and before long the place was filling up with other revelers. Because it was a night devoted to the gamay grape, we began with a sparkling gamay (G?) which set the tone with its beautiful pink bubbles and dry taste.

Dessert followed, dark chocolate caramel sea salt creme brulee and hazelnut apricot clafoutis with a decadent hazelnut cream. Julia Child herself would have been impressed.

As the room got fuller, we moved on to Cote de Brouilly Domaine du Pavillon de Chanannes, smelling of exotic spices and with a silky mouth feel that made it my companion's favorite of the evening. When we finally reached the bewitching hour, the real fun began.

With French music playing, we did a flight of Beaujolais Nouveau 2012. And surprisingly, it was a good year for the fruity little grape. The ubiquitous Georges Duboeuf was not entirely KoolAid-like and the Manoir du Carra was even better.

Yes, they tasted young and fruity, but isn't that the point?

Domaine Descroix came in as the crowd favorite, although I wouldn't have turned down more of  the Manoir du Carra Beaujoais Villages Nouveau, either. We noshed on a savory tart tatin of potatoes, Brie and honey, a fine complement to our young grapes.

The later it got, the livelier things were, both musically (lots of great '60s French pop) and conversationally (how couples met stories). I know there are French restaurants in Washington who have lines out the door on the third Thursday of November and no doubt those people are cycled in and out like cattle to drink Beaujolais Nouveau.

Our leisurely evening of meeting strangers, chatting with familiar faces and trying wine after wine was about as civilized as a wine drinker could hope for. Cultural history, live radio and a 15th century wine tradition.

We call that an honest night.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Fairer Than a Cowbell

The greatest tragedy written before Shakespeare followed by glass-shattering Afropop.

Nice segue, don't you think?

My favorite boarding school graduate met me at Garnett's for tea sandwiches, angels on horsebacks and Paul Ponnelle Pinot Noir while bringing me up to date on her life. She'd been here, she'd been there and all on her own.

"I go all by myself everywhere! I'm becoming you except I don't write about it," she said. Must save a lot of time, I concluded.

Then we were off to see "Live at the Globe: Dr. Faustus," the better to satisfy our inner theater nerds. I'd never seen one of these HD-filmed stage productions, much less one filmed at the Globe Theatre where there were people crowded into the pit and leaning on the stage, assuming the groundling roles.

The production was a fine one with detailed Renaissance-era costumes, huge flying dragons and stilt-walkers with enormous fur robes and horns. And live musicians! It was wonderful hearing musical flourishes throughout (cue gong!). Like when the gates of hell opened with the banging of it.

It is a comfort to the wretched to have companions in misery.

Bawdy comedy abounded; when a man's head is replaced by a dog's head, he stops to lift his leg and the groundlings under him get a golden shower. Fire was everywhere: inside books, on the nether regions of a haggard wife-to-be.

The story of a man seeking knowledge who sells his soul to the devil ("If this be hell, let me be damned") uses the most beautiful language.

He has a buttock as slick as an eel.

Performances were top notch and the camera gave us wide shots, long shots and the occasional close-up. I might have had one little complaint with the production.

None but thou shall be my paramour.

To better mimic the theater experience, I'd have preferred one fixed camera angle. But that's quibbling.

Thou art fairer than the evening air.

And just like at a play, the audience clapped at the end of the performance. After the curtain call, the cast came back out for a little performance piece, with many in the cast bloody and moving gory puppets as the danced and sang.

Faustus and Mephistopheles came out, grabbed instruments and began doing that old standard, "Dueling Lutes." Faustus yelled, "It's the devils' music!" to much hilarity as the credits rolled.

Where can a person go after experiencing Christopher Marlowe at her neighborhood multi-plex but to Balliceaux for North Carolinian afropop?

Brand New Life was a six piece: guitar, bass, sax, trumpet, percussion, and drums and I arrived for the end of their first set. The sax player was all tousled hair and toe-tapping loafers. The drummer and the percussionist had the kind of young faces that will serve them well when they're 40.

The band's break was spent chatting with a local jazz musician. Best quote from him, "Not everyone's as motivated as you are." I took it as a compliment.

When the band returned, they kicked off in high gear, with the guitarist asking, "Do you want to hear another rock and roll song?" Why would we not? And by rock and roll song, he meant the bass player ditched the upright for an electric and assumed the rocker stance, one leg forward.

No one does rock and roll quite like a bearded jazz nerd.

A friend slipped into the yellow chair next to me during the second set, bringing with him tales of a first date. I got to hear about how two people I introduced got to know each other for the first time. But we only talked in between songs until the show was over.

What I liked about the band's sound was just how much was going on at any one time. With my limited musical vocabulary, I tried to explain this to my friend, who's a musician.

"No, that's the best way to put it," he said, making me feel less stupid. "Like Fela Kuti." Exactly what I meant.

It was during a particularly cacophonous section that there was the sudden sound of glass breaking as a wineglass had danced itself right off the back bar and onto the bar floor. Good vibrations. Actually, it was downright awesome.

During one song, the guitarist slid the neck of his guitar along a conga drum's skin, looking quite pleased with himself. The trumpet player (and likely leader) was a force of nature, alternately blowing and playing a drum on the chair in front of him.

And there was cowbell, lots of cowbell.

The band ended on what they called a funky song, giving the crowd permission to dance and coming out with horns blaring. A few guys shuffled their feet.

Me, I was just basking in the glow of hearing more than my ears could take in.

For all I know, it was the devil's music, too.