Saturday, June 7, 2014

Salty and Sweet

It began one place and ended up somewhere else completely.

A friend had e-mailed, saying, "I'm looking for something on Saturday night...if you're available? Possibly something in the Gallery 5 or Ghostprint arena? Whatcha think? I want to bring my friend along, I don't think he's been to either."

I had the responsibility to inform her that Ghostprint was closed that night and Gallery 5 had a metal show. Neither was going to do.

It took me no time to find a worthy show (and an early one at that) so I replied, letting her know that it was at Strange Matter (so even grittier than Gallery 5) and that it would surely sell out because the band had just come off tour with Fitz & the Tantrums and 1975. Should I get three tickets?

She checked with her friend and immediately wrote back, "Apparently we're in! Let's go. They sound like it could be wonderful."

All systems go, in other words.

Two days later she tells me the friend has had a family event come up so he can't join us. Then she gets a migraine and is worried about loud music exacerbating it.

Today, I tried inviting a friend to join me, but he declined because he didn't like one of the opening bands (easy enough to skip, but I didn't say that).

All of a sudden, I am a solo act.

It's not like I don't have oodles of practice at going out alone, so I accept the changes as no big deal.

Where I got tripped us was when a) my late '90s-era blow dryer finally died and had to be replaced at the last minute so I didn't have to go to the show with wet hair and b) when the restaurant was mobbed when my hired mouth and I went out to eat.

First world problems, I know, but they meant that by the time I got to Strange Matter, where the show was indeed sold out (not bad for guys who have a four-song EP and a debut that doesn't even drop until the end of the month), the second of the opening bands, Kid is Qual, was nearly finished with their set.

As it turned out, that was a good thing because it was already painfully hot in there, so I left at the start of their last song to go outside and cool down.

Two guys were close on my heels and when we got out front, one turned and said, "You must be a sweaty Betty, huh? Wait, is your name Betty?"

Can't say that it is.

Milling around where we stood were four very un-Richmond-looking guys whom I pegged as the evening's L.A. headliner, Bad Suns.

When the sound guy came out and asked them if they wanted to get onstage by climbing through the side railing, they agreed and I knew for sure that these very young-looking guys were the main event.

They kicked off with "We Move Like the Ocean," with lead singer Chris pausing mid-song to shout, "Good evening, Richmond!" and the bass player playing so intently that his hair covered his face entirely.

Tonight's show was the first of XL 102's new Discovery series and while it had attracted others of my age, the greater majority was fresh-faced. In fact, it's been a while since I've been at a show with so many X's on hands for under-aged identification.

For the uninitiated, that means copious amounts of hair flipping, constant picture taking and kids with X's on their hands throwing devil's horns. Oh, yes, and a lot of blonds with their fingers in their ears. Pretty cliched, in other words.

And while the band may be young, they've clearly already got a handle on songwriting, composition and West Coast power pop in a way that makes the songs instant ear candy yet familiar.

It was on the third song that they started and stopped almost at once, saying there were drum problems. Guitarist Ray was good enough to noodle around to entertain us while the problem was taken care of.

Once fixed, Chris asked, "Can I get a wow?" and the crowd responded. "Can I get a great? Can I get an amazing?" and they did them, too. The crowd was nothing if not obedient.

Part way through the song, he pushed his guitar behind his back and began doing the kind of pelvic thrusting another young man got noticed for back in the '50s and the girls loved it.

I've been to so many sweaty, airless summer shows at Strange Matter - Real Estate, Wild Nothing and Kurt Vile immediately come to mind - that I'd expected it to be as hot as it was, but my sympathy went out to the band who were dripping buckets as they energetically played, finishing each song with towels to their face and hair to take off some of the sheen.

A couple of times, there was a splash of liquid on my bare legs as someone's beer sloshed and landed below. Given the warmth, it was almost pleasurable.

Chris said it was their first time playing Richmond. "Thank you for selling out! That's pretty amazing. We're gonna play some more rock and roll songs." The first rocker was "Cardiac Arrest," the inevitable radio single, a no-brainer choice to suck people in.

We heard a song off the new album to come, "Dancing in Quicksand" and dancing just in front of the venue's glass door was an older guy not missing a beat and even playing air drums to every note he could no doubt feel through the door.

I go to so many shows, but there's a special delight in seeing a young band, one that hasn't broken big yet and is still delighting in the crowd's screams, put their all into their performance because they're still trying to prove something.

That's a thing of beauty and Bad Suns were giving it everything they had.

Tonight was the final stop of their two month U.S. tour. "It's getting hot in here, isn't it?" Chris asked rhetorically, smiling like he was exactly where he wanted to be.

When we got to the end of their understandably short set, he said, "We've only got one more trick up our sleeves. Hope you brought your dancing shoes."

I had...and I did.

The finale was "Salt," a song that pulled from '80s new wave, blue eyed soul and of course earworm-worthy pop hooks. An absolutely killer ending.

Bad Suns exited the stage the same way they'd arrived, through the side railing, and I was right behind them, eager to fill my lungs with something other than stale, hot air.

Already out on the sidewalk, girls were asking Chris to pose for pictures with him.

Meanwhile, in the Plaza Art parking lot next door the door dancer was gathering a crowd and I joined it to watch as he popped and locked, moved and grooved, shouting out that he was doing the Kool-Aid dance.

Appropriate. I drank the Bad Suns Kool-Aid tonight. It was some kind of good.

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