Sunday, July 13, 2014

Cranked Up Really High

I always get a kick out of waking up to a request for the pleasure of my company.

Wondering what you are up to tonight. I was thinking of going to Hardywood for the show. I could most certainly dance to a little funky soul this evening.

Best of all, it came from a wine seller friend who'd never suggested a rendezvous before. So with no evening plans until 8, I was more than agreeable to meeting up at the brewery despite no interest in beer.

A breezy evening, another new (to me) thrift store dress so why pass up a chance to see Photosynthesizers, Richmond's exemplars of live soul/rock hip hop?

Hardly surprising was that the Hardywood crowd was far more diverse than usual, a testament to the band's fan base.

Waiting for my friend, I spotted one of RVA's best singers headed toward me, so we chatted about a favorite country band and the fabulous beehive hairdo the lead singer wears.

Not long after, I found my friend along with two others and the party was on. We took up spots near enough the outdoor stage (my first outdoor show at Hardywood) to have a terrific view of the band members.

Not a one of my companions had seen Photosynthesizers (how that's possible, I don't know but I try not to judge) so they were immediately impressed by singer SamSun, a vision with her gorgeous Afro, black midriff top and body-hugging, calf-length, leopard skin skirt.

I think it was during the very first song that the wine rep leaned over and asked, "Would it be wrong to ask her out after the show?" Go for it, honey.

What's unique about Photosynthesizers is that they're a band who focuses on live performances rather than recordings. I think they put out one EP a few years ago, but the songs you hear at any given show are not available for home listening.

Personally, I love that because it only makes their performances that much more compelling knowing it's the only way you can hear it.

With a drummer, guitarist, DJ, rapper and singer, their sound spans genres and makes fans of people sure they don't like hip hop, probably because they've never seen it done with live instruments before.

The only disappointment was that there was no dancing, except in place, but there was plenty of that because it was impossible to stand still while listening to them.

Afterwards, we all chatted, trading "how I met Jimmy Sneed" stories, dating details and comparing notes on the new Metzger.

They were off in search of food when we split up while I left to go meet a friend at River City Classic Bar and Grill to see a couple of music documentaries.

Grabbing my favorite booth (it only took one visit for me to determine which had the best views of both screens), I barely had time to order before my girlfriend, looking adorable as always in a dress and sweater, showed up to join me with her cute photographer husband.

While early music performances played - Gene Vincent, Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry - the photographer brought up the topic of local music and why it isn't played more in between sets at local clubs and in restaurants. He had a valid point.

Finally, the first short began and the fun was on. "The Cramps at Napa Mental Hospital" was an unlikely free show in 1978 for a bunch of mental patients, an idea which begs the question, who in the world thought this would be a good idea?

The 20-minute film was chaotic with the band's innovative psychobilly (crazy rockabilly) sound inciting the patients to levels of frenzy probably not good for them.

Every time one of the patients tried to dance with singer Lux Interior, he'd shove them back off of the stage roughly. In one case, a patient grabbed the microphone from Lux and began shrieking into it like a, well, crazy person.

Maybe it was the madness on the screens or maybe the crowd at the diner just didn't care, but unlike Tuesday's film, people talked right through this one.

At one point, the old couple next to me got into a loud discussion of how warm she was and how comfortable he was.

"I don't know how you have that sweater on," the large woman wearing a sundress said to her scrap of a date.

"I don't have much meat on my bones," the old guy said, pointing out the obvious, something surely she already knew. "No, you don't!" she sniffed.

After the Cramps, we got the main attraction, "The Punk Rock Movie" from 1978 and shot on Super 8, so black and white mostly and grainy as all get out, only adding to the punk feel of it.

My friend was as excited to see it as I was but for different reasons. "I'm looking for fashion inspiration," she told me, impressed right away by the tie-over-the-t-shirt look we saw.

A lot of the footage was shot at London's punk-focused Roxy Club in 1978 during the mere 100 days that it was open.

Here's one tidbit I'd like to share with every person who wasn't alive in 1978 and thinks they know what punk bands dressed like: you haven't got a clue.

Every band we saw was dressed in button-up shirts, sometimes jackets, often ties and always slacks. The perception of punk bands as always clad in ratty, torn t-shirts is a figment of revisionist history.

We saw show footage of a 23-year old Billy Idol as a member of Generation X, along with backstage footage, including one scene of a band member pulling down his briefs and flashing his junk at the camera. No doubt that was considered punk at the time.

Female British punk band The Slits were shown alternately practicing music and teasing their hair ("I used to do that to my hair," my cute friend shared. "Maybe I'll start doing that again") but it was the drummer Palmolive's hard-hitting energy that was hard to look away from.

The Clash were shown playing and then on a day off, horsing around, on a kid's playground ride, looking young and carefree.

When band Subway Sect came on, my friend and I agreed that lead singer Vic Goddard was positively dreamy and her friend at the bar turned around and gestured the same. Oh, Vic!

Some of the most interesting scenes were of London cops investigating window displays at a punk shop called Sex. Apparently, they'd gotten complaints about the severed finger and plastic ears on display.

"Go home and jerk off and think of me!" yelled the transgender lead singer of Wayne County and the Electric Chairs before a woman leaned over and said, "You may not want to watch this" as the members of Eater bludgeoned a pig's head onstage before tossing it out to the crowd.

I know my friend was tickled pink when Siouxie (of the Banshees) came out in a tie over a jacket, yet another '70s fashion statement.

My only complaint by this time was how loud the diner crowd was, all but shouting over the movie as if it didn't matter because so much of it was music. Friend and I agreed we missed most of the dialogue because of the incessant chatter.

We saw a flier for a Slits show at - of all the unlikely places - a school's great hall at 5 p.m., not an especially punk time of day.

Then there was Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers (with a pink drum set) doing "Born to Lose," the lead singer sporting one long sleeve and one short t-shirt sleeve (plus a tie, natch), as well as them on the tour bus kidding around with Siouxie and the Banshees.

And speaking of, because it was 1978, there was footage of Siouxie backstage drinking vodka and popping pills (after the third vial, she asks, "How many of this one should I take? Oh, what the hell, I'll take two").

But I'll give her credit where credit was due. The woman could put on liquid eyeliner on a moving tour bus, no easy feat.

A film geek friend walked by about then and whispered, "Are you keeping track of all the dead punk rockers? Quite a few!" True that. Not a lifestyle that promotes longevity.

When the Sex Pistols start playing, we saw Debbie Juvenile sum up many people's feelings. "Oh, some decent fucking music at last!"

You could tell the movie had been made in another galaxy far away because gratuitous sexy close-ups were de rigueur. Often the camera lingered on a girl's breasts or the crotch of a girl in fishnets and panties, apropos of nothing.

The Pistols' show footage was notable for two reasons: it was Syd Viscious' first public gig with the band and Johnny Rotten is dapperly dressed in a jacket (granted he removes it early on), shirt and bow tie. Yes, bow tie.

And that, kids, is tonight's history lesson. You think you know what punk was about but you probably have no idea. Go back and do some research, maybe even watch "The Punk Rock Movie" and you'll learn a hell of a lot.

Maybe not how to tease your hair or apply liquid eyeliner on a moving bus, but enough to understand what punk was.

Hard and fast. People pogoing. And the best stage names ever. Drew Blood? Positively brilliant.

Just like my evening.

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