Saturday, February 8, 2014

Perfect Amount of Art and Awkward

Just another Friday night that starts with a makeshift disco and ends with strippers.

A photographer friend and I were walking to dinner when he spied some interesting tile work on a building and paused to take a picture.

Next thing we know, the owner of the building, a charming Mexican, comes out and invites us in for a tour of the building he is renovating for his construction company.

I'm sure my mother would disapprove of going into a stranger's building with him, but I figure my sturdy male friend is my insurance against bodily harm.

Inside, the owner tells us that the building was a laundry for 75 years, showing off massive sliding metal doors, huge exhaust fans and an abundance of windows to let out the hot, steamy air.

Everywhere but the front of the building is still a work in progress, with part of the floor torn up in one place and a walkway over the hole.

When we get almost to the back, though, we find an intact floor, finished walls and where, wait for it, he says nonchalantly, "Here is my discotheque," while hitting a switch which starts the mirror ball turning and myriad strobe lights flashing along the roof line.

He says this is where they dance when he holds employee parties. It was about the last thing on earth I'd expected when we'd walked in the building.

That said, if he'd put on some music, I might have tried it out and I bet my friend would have, too.

Neither of us could get over the unexpected invitation followed by a peek inside a building we would otherwise never have seen.

While we were eating dinner afterwards, we caught up with each other's lives, the best part being when I asked how his relationship is going. I'd guessed that since he never has time to get together, it must be going quite well.

He affirmed how happy he was, saying, "She's smart, she likes to talk, she's good company and she used to be a cheerleader so she's flexible."

A man couldn't really ask for much more than that, could he?

The icing on the cake was when he surprised me by saying, "Since I won't be seeing you on Valentine's day, I have a present for you," pulling out a large pink eraser shaped like a diamond ring. "Anyone who doesn't put a ring on it is a dumbass."

Clearly he didn't want to be among that group. It was my first pink eraser diamond ring and although I'm not a jewelry person, I wore it all night.

Our next stop was Glave Kocen gallery to See "Click III," a biannual invitational photography show with the theme "From Mountains to Sea."

We both recognized several of the photographers' names while taking in a fascinating array of photography styles from photo montage to pinhole Polaroids to photo-journalism to abstractions. Our post-gallery discussion involved how the best digital photographs look like they were shot on 35 mm.

We parted ways in the arts district since I had First Fridays artwalking to do and he had other plans.

My first stop was at Black Iris gallery to see "Public Eye: Civil Rights Case Study," a series of photographs and videos shot for surveillance purposes during the '60s and '70s in Richmond.

The mug shots looked like Joe Average people, a comment I made to a woman who responded, "Yea, there's one of my sister."

I'm willing to bet if you're of an age and were in Richmond during the days of protests and demonstrations, you might recognize some young person's mug in the exhibit, too.

Projected on the back wall was a series of film clips, like a 1970 busing protest on Belvidere, a memorial for Martin Luther King at the state capital in 1968 (with women in white gloves and hats), a KKK parade and a Black Panther meeting on Laurel Street.

Of course Laurel Street. Where else but Oregon Hill would you expect to find Black Panthers and anarchists?

A black and white no-frills look at a period in RVA's history I missed, presented without political agenda or bias. As in, just the facts, ma'am. Definitely worth checking out.

From there, it was just a short walk to the Renaissance for WRIR's annual "party for the rest of us" to celebrate their ninth birthday.

I made a point to get there early enough to see River City Taiko, a group that plays traditional Japanese drums, which I have to assume means one person on either side of the drum playing different rhythms because that's what these people were doing, sometimes two at a time and sometimes the entire group at once.

The Colloquial Orchestra was next and while I've seen them many times, that's meaningless because the orchestra is defined as Dave Watkins on dulcitar and anyone else he asks to play with him, so never the same.

It can be a three piece, a six-piece or, like tonight, a 14-piece: two drummers, six guitarists (one acoustic), bass, trumpet, keyboard, violin,and a late-arriving sax player.

Improvising for a half hour, they wove elaborate soundscapes around the bass and drum center, creating what one first-timer described to me as sounding like "bagpipes on acid."

Changing rooms to catch some storytelling courtesy of Secretly Y'All, I heard the inimitable Herschel tell a tale of falling hard for a girl after hearing her laugh because, "it was the best laugh I ever heard."

Now there's a hell of a  compliment.

He accompanied himself on ukulele when he sang a song partially based on their interaction.

Justin's story was about moving from Powhatan and an outdoor-centered life to Church Hill and having to push himself "to get off my ass and go outside," and his song was called "Silver and Diamonds."

Patrick's story was about a girl joining his group traveling Europe and after spending 24 hours with her, knowing he was deeply in love. Two months here went great but six weeks in Berlin made it painfully obvious she'd lost interest. His heartbreaking tribute was called "Waltz to Noel."

No one had mentioned that tonight's theme would be "guys with sad stories."

Milling about between bands, I ran into the DJ who works at WPA and had made all the lovely birthday cakes for tonight's party. I had him give me a rundown on what kind of cake was inside each since they all looked different.

Chocolate coconut and caramel chocolate seemed to hold the most promise for me. I took a swipe of icing just to be sure, alarming a DJ.

That's an annual tradition for me at this party, my friend. Just ask Andrew.

The one band I wanted to make sure I caught tonight was Hypercolor and walking into the ballroom as their set began, I knew in an instant that they were right up my alley.

A ruby-throated female lead singer playing guitar ("She's not your typical lead, she's even doing some finger-picking," the guy behind me whispered to me), two other lush-sounding guitars including one of the guys from Avers whom I'd just seen and the bassist from Fear of Music (also just seen last weekend) who together with the drummer kept everyone from wandering off into psychedelic bliss.

I kept moving closer and closer to the front to watch and listen to the impressive execution and well-written songs. I'll need to see them again soon.

The Silent Music Revival was presenting the avant-garde 1947 film "The Cage" with improvised soundtrack by Snack Truck and their thunderous rock was a fine match for the falling eyeballs, nude women running, leek stealers and other assorted oddities of the silent movie.

I could tell that a lot of people watching had never seen a SMR presentation before as they focused solely on the band and ignored the movie.

Guys, guys, guys.

Back in the main ballroom, the Ar-Kaics had morphed from a trio to a quartet since I'd last seen them at Steady Sounds but hard and fast ear-splitting garage rock was still their metier.

For something completely different, I crossed rooms to hear the RVA Squares, a bluegrass band with a dance caller.

Eight couples took the challenge, including three all girl couples (one of each was given a tie to make her easier to identify as the male) and squared off as Grant Hunnicutt, hat, microphone and all, proceed to call out the square dancing instructions.

Gents go round the outside line
Pass your partner one time by
Pick a new girl on the fly
Swing her round
Step right back and watch her strut
Step back up and bump your butt

I'm not sure those are the same square dancing calls I heard when we square danced in elementary school, but they seemed to elicit much the same results.

It really did look like fun and while I'm sure I would have made a mess of it, I'd have tried square dancing for the first time since elementary school if someone had asked.

But they didn't, so I accepted an invitation from my favorite J-Ward couple to leave for Gallery 5 and the last of their evening of burlesque and boylesque.

The place was packed and we heard major hooting and hollering from outside, so I found a place by the radiator and stood on tip-toe to see the ample Dante the Inferno gyrate and strip down.

"That was just the perfect amount of awkward," host Parker said afterwards while scantily clad women were sweeping up the stripping droppings of Dante.

The lovely and zaftig Ellie "Iron Lady" Quinn was next and her red and gold costume zipped off while she danced provocatively to reveal a gold bikini top and gold thong with tassels .

The crowd ate it up, cheering her on until she removed her bikini top and it was just pasties with tassels, which she then proceeded to twirl like a pro, shimmying wildly.

Buster Britches was introduced as "the cream show Casanova" and Parker instructed us to make a path down the center of the room "cause he's gonna be coming from the back, just the way he likes it."

In a short floral robe and carrying an umbrella, the ample Buster strutted onstage to Billie Holiday's "He's a Tramp," dropped the robe and then spent the rest of the time adding clothes back on.

The night ended with Deanna Danger, not only a burlesque performer but a teacher ("You, too, can be up here taking your clothes off!" Parker said by way of introduction) in a fabulous gold and black dress with a slit skirt that got twirled and swirled overhead before being removed to reveal the tiniest of pasties and leopard briefs.

The audience was practically salivating and clearly disappointed that the evening's stripping was over.

Not me. Despite the fact that I hadn't danced at the discotheque, hadn't square danced, hadn't danced while taking my clothes off and no one's writing a "Waltz to Karen," tonight was a terrific lot of fun.

Not only am I wearing the latest in pink eraser jewelry, but I was told me that I always add laughter to a room.

A woman couldn't really ask for much more than that, could she?

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