Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Rocket Replacement

Sometimes the best dates are couple dates, especially music-loving couples.

Once we'd established that we were all going to the same show, and a particularly good one on a Monday night, the only thing left to decide was where to eat beforehand. My suggestion -agreed to immediately -was 821 Cafe.

They were already same side-sitting in a front booth when I walked in, but they'd left me the side with a view of Cary Street, meaning a non-stop parade of students and assorted Oregon Hill regulars. Crazy Nate rode by on his bike twice, either grimacing or smiling, I wasn't sure which.

When it came time to order, my girlfriend got her standard PB & B while I asked for my usual half order of black bean nachos, which apparently sounded so appetizing that her husband ordered the same. Our server made it clear that the kitchen would be much happier if we just split a full order. Easy enough.

While we ate, conversation centered around how the kind of parties you go to in your 20s lose their appeal with time and meeting the right mate. Case in point, their Halloween plans involve other couples and board games, very different from the costumed debauchery they once practiced on All Hallows Eve.

Noticing how dark it was getting and how early it was, we lamented the shortening days. I said that at this point, all I want is to get to winter solstice so the days can start lengthening again. "That's exactly how I feel!" my friend agreed. This country is too far removed from an agrarian society to bother with the nonsense of changing the clocks anymore.

By then it was time for a change of venue.

We met up again at the Camel for a four band bill with Laura Stevenson and the Cans headlining. My girlfriend had put Laura's album as one of her favorites on her end of 2013 list and from what I'd listened to, with good cause.

The show kicked off with Tracy of Positive No thanking us for coming out on a Monday night. "Since the rocket didn't happen due to a stray sailboat, you get bands to listen to instead!" Honestly, I'd take music over rockets most nights.

As many times as I've seen Positive No play, tonight was significant because it was drummer Willis' last show with the band. And while the crowd was still fairly small when they played (it was an unusually early show for the Camel), most of the faces were familiar to the band.

That's probably why practically every song was dedicated to someone in the crowd like Tess, Sadie, Melissa and Ryan.

Tracy also took a moment to warn the other musicians in the room about the soft spot on the stage, likening it to the soft spot on a baby's head and recalling that she once went through a stage floor. "Okay, it was a pallet in the basement, but still..."

Really, it's not hard to imagine her going through a flimsy pallet given the energetic pogoing she does while singing lead. It's all part of a vibrant stage presence.

"I can't believe it's our last song," she said, high-fiving Willis and looking a little sad. For my part, I know his energetic drumming will be sorely missed.

Next came Eli Whitney and the Sound Machine, touring behind their new album "Reasons to Leave," which they characterized as "full of happy songs."

The trio was young, high energy and brief with songs clocking in at about three minutes tops. They even took the glammy Killers' song "Mr. Brightside" and made it hard, fast and fun.

They also looked like they were having a ball up there, the guitarists and bassist trading off lead vocals, both of them hopping around and playing off each other. "Really, we're from Long Island but we moved to Brooklyn. But not to be cool," they claimed.

When their set ended, my girlfriend summed it up perfectly. "It makes me so happy that there are still bands like that so full of energy." She was right, of course. It was young man music of the highest order.

During the break, I heard about my couple date's Aunt Nancy, a colorful-sounding woman who's had four husbands (seems she was big on Christian Mingles for a while), is a terrible but prolific painter and excels at making jello salads.

Fortunately for me, they not only had pictures of her bad art but pictures of Aunt Nancy and pictures of Aunt Nancy's self-portraits, making for a lot of laughter during the break.

Then came Helen Chambers in a green plaid shirt and black skirt, who began by telling us she'd come quite a long way to play guitar and sing "Little Demons." Only after the first song did she explain that she was English, as if we hadn't noticed the accent and lilting warble characteristic of British songbirds.

Written when she was exceedingly hungover, "Kiss the Floorboards" was about a resolution to give up alcohol, one she'd clearly abandoned given the drink at her feet. "But I really meant it when I wrote it!" she said. I thought British singers were required by law to drink.

We noticed that a cluster of guys had formed right in front of the stage, no doubt drawn by her incredible voice, friendly demeanor and short skirt.

She sounded very happy to be touring the U.S., mentioning that she'd had her first root beer today ("It tasted a little medicinal") before singing "Little Blackbirds" with Laura Stevenson coming up to add sublime harmonies on the song.

Sharing that she'd played for her uncle "Veronica Pearl," a song about her grandparents' house being bombed during WW II, she said he'd cried so hard when he heard it that his false teeth had come out. If she were a country singer, I'd say there's a song in that, too.

The crowd grew noticeably larger just before Laura Stevenson and the Cans began playing, as well it should have given the talent on stage. Along with Laura's voice and guitar were a guitarist, bassist, accordionist/keyboard player and even a female drummer, always a treat to see.

From the first notes, their sound was an interesting amalgamation of genres, part folky, a little pop and definitely rock and roll with a crack band to execute. And a whole lot of sad songs, such as the compelling "Runner," a song that thrilled my girlfriend.

Hearing a story on the radio in the band's van today about a woman being tested for Hodgkin's disease after two relatives had it, Laura said she cried at the woman's dilemma of waiting for a diagnosis. "It's kind of like this song, "The Healthy One," except mine's about AIDS." It was sad and beautiful.

It didn't take long to see why my girlfriend had fallen in love with Laura's voice, which while sweet and clear was also powerful and melancholy, particularly on love songs and sad songs, of which there were plenty.

Glancing at the drummer, she observed, "I just realized we're wearing the same outfit," she said of their brown t-shirts and jeans. "You look good!" I found it intriguing to hear so much humor from her between songs since the music leaned toward emotions laid bare.

Songs like the heartbreaking "The Move," for which the band left the stage so it was just her and her guitar. Or "Nervous Wrecks," which she sang with Helen doing harmonizing payback.

The band returned for one last happy song, rocking out as Laura's vocals soared over the heads of the adoring crowd.

What do you do when your couple date finishes with such a stellar band? You thank and hug your girlfriend for all she's worth and tell her to pass it on to her husband.

But you don't get kissed. Some things just aren't meant to happen on couple dates.

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