Tuesday, April 29, 2014

How High the Roses

My goodness, what a lot of rain!

Not that I allowed it to keep me from the Listening Room, these days a much more infrequent event than it used to be.

Besides walking five miles to school uphill in a blizzard, I also remember when the Listening Room was a regularly scheduled monthly event, as reliable a part of my month as the full moon.

But things change and, as one Listening Room founder recently told me, when the series began in 2009, it was far more needed than it is now with all kinds of series and a much more vibrant music scene than back then.

So when I saw the eleventh hour announcement about this week's event, I looked forward to it, sure I'd see all the regular gang. Except, no, not so much.

Maybe it was the torrents of rain falling, maybe people already had plans by the time they got word of the show, but it was definitely a smaller than usual crowd.

Oh, sure, the scientists was there and told me about his upcoming one month trek down the James with his students. My favorite dulcitar player gave me a hug and we talked ballet. The accordion player and I were talking when someone walked up and asked if we were related. "No, but I wish we were," she said. But then duty called.

Ever since the Foundry crew who puts on the Listening Room became an all male bunch, the food and coffee table has been a bit more of a challenge.

So when the LR's photographer Rob showed up just before starting time with coffee and treats, I volunteered to help him get things set up.

What that meant was that he handed me his pocket knife so that I could cut goodies in half and lay them out for attendees, some of whom were already wondering out loud where the sweets were.

Nate was our MC tonight, observing that if we were wondering where the Civil War-era looking guy was - regular MC Chris- he was away on business so Nate was filling in.

He spoke from the Firehouse's stage which was set with "A Streetcar Named Desire's" set, a couple of shabby rooms and a staircase, reminding me that I'd like to see that play.

The theater also had a display of local streetcar photography, including one labeled as "Streetcar at Broad and Main," something any Richmonder worth her salt knows does not exist since the two streets run parallel.

But the pictures themselves were fascinating to look at.

Red Lewis fit his name, a long, tall drink of water with a guitar and a carrot top and he began with the first song he ever wrote, finishing by telling us it was available in fleshed out form on "a nice CD" with him playing all the instruments.

He did a Hank Williams' cover, "Long Gone Daddy" and one about long distance romances.

"I don't know if anyone else made the same bad decision I did when I was like 19 or 20 and she was 2500 miles away in Calgary," he said about his song, "Absence Makes the Heart Go Yonder."

Red said it was surreal to be playing while people were actively listening since he was used to playing in a bar and being ignored.

"This is a pretty cool song about running into the ghost of Hank," he grinned. "I guess I got a theme going up here." He even sang the parts of the song where Hank was talking to sound like Hank.

Pulling out his banjo, he closed with "This Haunted Love," before ably demonstrating his sense of humor again, saying."If you like that song, it's on that nice CD over there I keep mentioning, along with t-shirts, but I only have three left because they're inexcusably comfortable."

Intermission was a trade-off - new people arrived but some left, too - and then Nate returned to the stage thanking the Firehouse and photographer Rob for always documenting the show. "There will be creepy pictures of you on the Internet," he warned.

...and the Wiremen were up next, the atmospheric duo of New Yorker Lynn Wright on guitar and vocals and Paul Watson on trumpet and backing vocals.

I don't even know how many times I've seen them, not to mention the array of locations (Ghostprint Gallery, Poe's Pub, Balliceaux), but the two create a moody kind of indie jazz that sounds like it's been filtered through both the '60s and European basement clubs.

Lynn, looking dapper as always with a navy and white polka-dotted silk scarf around his throat and capable of a warble of a croon that owes a great deal to Bryan Ferry, sang song after song, including one he said was so hot off the presses ("this afternoon") that he might have to resort to his cheat sheet.

If he did, I didn't notice.

How high the roses
How low the sea

He switched from a jangly, reverb-toned jazz guitar to an acoustic for a piece called "Cuervo" (as in "raven" in Spanish, not tequila), a piece he'd originally written for a dance company as an instrumental but had since added a few lyrics to the haunting melody.

Paul's horn is a big part of the pleasure of ...and the Wiremen, adding to their dusky sound, which really should always be played under the lowest of lights.

Saying they'd close with Alex Chilton's song "written some time back in the '70s", the beautiful strains of Big Star's "Take Care" with Paul blowing his trumpet around the edges of the song as they took us home for the night.

Take care not to hurt yourself
beware of the need for help 
You might need too much
and people are such

Take care, please take care

Some people read idea books
and some people have pretty looks
But if your eyes are wide
and all words aside

Take care, please take care

The Listening Room doesn't happen as often as it used to, but it can still provide the kind of evening where you hear hypnotic music that gives you the thrill only live music played to a hushed room can.

Or maybe it's just been a while and absence does make the heart grow fonder of what I used to get every single month.

Creepy pictures aside.

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