Sunday, May 12, 2013

This Much Delight

So I finally got to be a VIP.

After countless trips to the National, the only time I'd ever sat down was at the very first show, Lou Reed.

Every show since, and there have been many, I have stood on the main floor, pretty much always right in front of the sound booth.

Arriving for the Joy Formidable show tonight, I was at the window picking up my ticket when I heard my name called from the left.

My evening's companion had scored VIP passes, so regular tickets were unnecessary.

As I soon learned, that mean a private bar, a separate bathroom and tables and chairs or a padded banquette to sit on.

We made a stop at the bar where I got Cazadores and noticed an open window.

It seemed unlikely to me that the clubby bar with deep, leather couches and a screen showing what was being set up onstage, would have a window open to Broad Street.

Naturally, I wasted no time leaning out it to look down on the cityscape, despite my friend seeing it as no big deal.

Drinks in hand, we walked down the hall, showed our VIP wristbands and took seats on the banquette, right smack in the middle.

First up was Fort Lean, a quintet of endless exuberance and guitars from NYC.

They were breaking no new ground, but the sound was energetically infectious and there was no reason not to enjoy a young band who had me bopping in place from the first jangly song.

Friend described them as a "vivacious My Morning Jacket," while I heard more power pop than anything else.

The unexpected part was how we ended up playing "name that tune," finding all kinds of already-written songs in each of theirs.

The Go-Gos' "We Got the Beat," Tears for Fears "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" and even Flock of Seagulls' "I Ran" all made appearances with new lyrics and a few new licks to dress them up.

Not that anyone in the band had been alive when those songs came out.

It was after their brief set that I learned the true pleasures of being a VIP - an empty bar at which to get a refill and use a spacious bathroom.

We watched the set up of the next band, IO Echo, from one of the leather sofas in the bar before returning just in time for them to begin their set on a stage modified with Asian accents.

Two rice paper screens stood on either side, with a large open fan on the floor between them.

All at once, strobe lights went off and the androgynous-looking, kimono-clad lead singer, Joanna, all but exploded on stage.

She was a long, tall drink of water in a t-shirt, jeans and boots under a pale pink kimono who spent a lot of their set pogo-ing as she sang.

On either side of her, tall, black-clad men played their instruments set dramatically against the backlit screens, with guitarist Leopold swinging his long, black hair dramatically with every power chord.

It was goth rock theatricality of the highest order.

On the way in, I'd run into a guy I always see at shows and he'd given me a head-up about IO Echo, citing their Japanese embellishments and saying he thought they had a "Cocteau Twins meets My Bloody Valentine" sound.

I'd call it bombast, pure and simple.

Singer Joanna wavered between sounding like Florence (as in, & the Machine) and vintage Grace Slick, but her twirling dance style was pure Stevie Nicks, without any of the femininity.

They were a band with high entertainment value, whether intentionally or not, we couldn't decide.

By now we knew the drill, returning to the bar area and slouching on the couch to watch the set-up for the Joy Formidable.

We'd both seen the Joy a little over two years ago at the Black Cat, so we both knew exactly what to expect.

Of course, it wasn't that simple.

When we left the bar, we took seats at a front-row table so we could have an even better view of the band and the crowd.

Lead singer Ritzy (real name: Rhiannon, I kid you not), a tiny, blond slip of a Welsh woman, came out looking like she'd had a TV makeover.

Instead of the spiky-haired platinum blond in jeans and leather we'd seen in 2011, tonight she had a sleek bob of the warmest blond color, a cute little black dress, a big silver collar necklace and black tights.

It didn't look very rock and roll, more like just cute.

She still had her massive pedal board from which she made big sounds on her guitar, although the absolute center of this band is the bass player, Rhydian, from whom all songs emanate.

Drummer Matthew got big points for having a gong behind his drum set, the better to make big noise.

By the third song, a black and white video screen had come on behind them, further evidence of how much more polished their act had become in two years.

Add in that now it's not just the three of them making music like it had been at the Black Cat, but a lot of sounds pre-recorded coming from off stage.

Ditto the songs off their new album, "Wolf's Law," which show a lot more range than its predecessors, although I never had any complaint with their original sound.

Nor did the crowd and when the tore into "Whirring," everyone went crazy for the massive sound of it.

This much delight
Fills columns to new heights
All these things about me you never can tell
Colors in prime
Paint a picture so bright
All these things about me you never can tell
You make me sleep so badly, invisible friend

But when they got to a song where Rhydian was playing an acoustic guitar instead of his effects-laden bass, my friend and I looked at each other like another band had dropped down on stage instead of the one we'd come to see.

Ritzy said it was the last night of a tour they'd been on since January and soon after scuttled off the stage and into the crowd, moving along the front row, a tiny slip of a blond lost between the stage and rabid fans.

All of a sudden, being a VIP wasn't doing me much good.

My friend and I agreed that the best part of seeing tonight's show was the fact that we'd seen the band the last time.

No one keeps an edge indefinitely and as good as the band sounded tonight, the show that'll stick in my memory is the one that's been firmly planted there since March 2011.

It was a little like seeing a favorite classic black and white movie colorized.

I can't see he says what he means
I can't say what he means when he says
That I'll pretend, I'll pretty pretend
When all I want to see is the end of this

Or maybe I just wasn't meant to be a VIP.

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