Friday, June 13, 2014

It's Only Dancing

Despite it being National Verdejo day, I drank no Verdejo.

What I did do was accept a date to take a road trip to Charlottesville to see Jeremy Messersmith at the Southern.

The closer to C-ville we got, the more we saw the sun until the gray skies of Richmond were lost in the rear-view mirror.

On the way, we discussed the article "The 30 Places to Eat in Virginia Before You Die," taking issue with some and, at least in my case, eager to try others. More reasons for road trips, yes!

Once arrived, we walked to South Street Brewery for a bite to eat before the show, joining a crowd of beer drinkers at the bar but opting instead for a bottle of local Potter's Craft cider, pale, tart and very dry.

Spotting blue nachos on the menu, I decided to make my dinner of the elevated bar staple. My favorite nachos involve blue chips and black beans, onions (these had both red onions and scallions) and cheese. Black and blues, as one now defunct RVA restaurant used to call them.

They're harder to find than you might think, since few places use blue chips and most pile on lettuce and tomatoes when I want neither, while onions of any kind are missing in action.

So despite having no interest in brews, I had a delightful brewery dinner, including a great view of an unexpected downpour outside the big front windows.

When the rain stopped and the sun returned, we made a dash for the Southern on the downtown mall, joining a suspiciously small group of people there. Maybe the weather was delaying people. Surely more people were coming to the show than this?

Let's put it this way: we walked in and found tall seats with a clear view of the stage to sit in and this is a venue where every time I've been, it's been a standing crowd with tall people blocking my view.

When opener Big Scary, an Australian duo, came out, the audience was only a dozen strong, a pretty pathetic showing, which was too bad because the band's sound was all over the place with something to please everyone.

Through songs such as the garage rock-y "Gladiator" to the more melancholy "Belgian Blues" to "Phil Collins," which used a drum pad to the interplay of Tom and Joanna's vocals over a languidly-paced song structure reminding me of the XX, it was all interesting enough to want to hear what they would do next.

Luckily, more people arrived during the break so when Jeremy Messersmith and his band mates took the stage, the crowd had maybe tripled. Not great, not enough, but a tad better.

You could say Jeremy makes nerd music or you could say he makes smart pop music or you could say his offbeat songwriting topics are his strength. All of that's true.

With a guitarist, bassist, keyboard player and drummer, Jeremy played both acoustic and electric guitar and used his beautiful voice to engage the crowd almost immediately.

The band played through several songs - "Tourniquet" about him being just that for a girl and "Knots" about falling for a girl drummer.

But the song that grabbed me and wouldn't let go was "It's Only Dancing," a charging lament about holding a girl in his arms who doesn't belong to him.

I pull you close, hold my breath
Feel your heartbeat through your summer dress
Shuffle our feet slowly to the stereo

With the band in high gear behind him, the song could have been an outtake from a '90s-era Bo Deans song, all roots rock swagger and energy. Magnificent.

Soon the band left Jeremy onstage alone and he asked for requests from the audience, and while there weren't many of us, there were enough real fans to throw out 7 or 8 suggestions, throwing him off.

"Usually one person makes a request," he admitted. "Because no one knows my songs that well."

The last request shouted out was for "Tatooine," which he explained had been written when he began to wonder if he could ever love someone as much as he'd loved "Star Wars" as a kid. "This song was my way of working through that."

Calling it the best love song he'd written, they did "I Want to be Your One Night Stand," but his sense of humor was just as evident on "I Need a Hit Man for My Heart."

Saying he took the title from a motivational poster he'd seen, "Someday, Someone" was the barn burner of a finale.

Someday someone will love the f*ck out of you
Love your crazy point of view
Love you when you're feeling blue
They'll love everything you do
Someone true
Someday soon

When they finished it, Jeremy said that now was the time that they were supposed to go offstage and wait for 20 minutes but that that was stupid and he wasn't going to do it. "Because I respect your time too much," he said as introduction for the encore.

Nerdy and considerate, a real catch!

Of course they began with the exuberant "Ghost," a song so clever and smart that it's bound to get played more on the radio.

If there's a line I will cross it, no lesson I will learn
Even if I'm standing on it, no bridge that I won't burn

They finished out the encore with the keyboard-driven "Violet," a song that drew from equal parts Beach Boys and Partridge Family, a pop gem with dark but hopeful lyrics sung with the most incredible vocal harmonies sounding so sunny I had to smile just listening.

Or maybe that was just my reaction to a fabulous quickie getaway evening with words and music by my favorite kind of man: smart and funny.

The kind you want to be so much more than a one night stand because he loves my point of view.

And if he brings Verdejo, all the better.

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