Friday, November 14, 2014

Give It a Rest

Luddites, unite! If only all musicians were so strict.

The evening began with a walk through Carver on the way to Unleashed Gourmet Hot Dogs. Barely over a block from home, the proprietor of a future corner shop stopped building things inside and came outside to say hello to the walkers.

Complaining about the city's snail-like pace in getting things done, he lamented that they'd only this morning been able to begin construction on his little store which will serve breakfast and lunch. He's optimistically hoping to be open in a month and a half. Godspeed, friend.

Walking past the frequently-shuttered Richmond Book Shop, lights were on, necessitating a visit inside. I swear this place is a both a treasure trove and cultural archive of Richmond's counterculture.

A 1960 pamphlet from a local hardware store containing "fancy barbecue recipes." A postcard that had a joke on the front ("What came first, the chicken or the egg? Think about it!") and nothing but a signature and an address on the back. Apparently sending a joke was enough.

Then there was the trashy 25 cent girlie magazine with a headline about a girl proving her virginity all over town. I tell you, the inventory here is priceless.

Walking up to Unleashed under the canopy of a construction framework, I spotted one guy inside the restaurant. That's one more than last time I'd come with my photographer friend for lunch.

Inside, the Russian owner was watching a Russian movie on TV, but he happily jumped up for the chance to talk to a real person. It soon became clear how lonely it must be in there with so much construction going on above and across the street.

The man just kept talking about all his homemade food, why brilliant yellow American mustard has nothing to do with actual mustard seeds and how he hates when people want to add something to one of his dogs because it throws off the complementary flavor balances.

After asking which dogs were made in house, my choice was the Kavkaz Shepard dog, a lamb and beef sausage with marinated onion, cilantro and homemade tomato sauce. My fellow dog-lover opted for the Siberian Husky, a wienerwurst sausage with Russian-style sauerkraut with onion and Siberian mustard, which the Russian warned us was potent.

As in, clear your sinuses strong. The guy who'd been eating when we arrived got up to leave, urging us to try the Husky and savor that killer mustard. It wasn't a hard sell. Both dogs were tasty, contrasting sweet with savory, and so as was the beet-infused Russian potato salad.

Walking back to Jackson Ward (while the sky spit intermittent cold raindrops) for wheels with which to get to Crossroads Coffee, we then crossed the river and found a full parking lot on this unexpectedly cold evening.

That was no surprise to me because the Brian Jones Trio was playing and they never disappoint. Part of the appeal was the venue; the smallest place I'd ever seen them play was in a room at the annual John Cage MusicCircus, so I was curious how they'd sound in a small, crowded coffee shop.

Fabulous, that's how. We found seats on the long bench that traverses the wall, meaning a good view of the musicians and, as a bonus, the PacMan video table for my hot chocolate to sit on. When I'd ordered it, the girl had asked if I wanted it with whipped cream.

Is that a rhetorical question? She shared that some people decline whipped cream and she wonders what's the point. Indeed.

Sipping my chocolate and waiting for the band to start, I skimmed through a 1980 book on the makings of the Vietnam war full of pictures I'd never seen before (JFK's funeral procession down Connecticut Avenue from above? LBJ overcome with emotion after hearing a tape of his son-in-law's combat experiences?) and a NYT article on a romancing your way through South Africa.

Then it was show time.

The trio had sprouted an extra member tonight so in addition to Brian on drums, there was Cameron on upright bass, J.C. on sax and Alan on guitar. Crammed into a corner of Crossroads, Brian welcomed the crowd and specified that there was to be absolutely no use of social media ("Give it a rest, willya?") during the performance.

A man after my own heart.

As they proceeded to play, improvise and play games with each other musically, I looked down the bench to see a guy sketching in a notebook and another scrolling through Facebook posts. So much for respecting the band's wishes.

The two most attentive people in the room were probably Brian's handsome parents and he called them out when he mentioned drummer Roger Humphries and asked if anyone knew of him (we didn't, they did).

From there, the four talented musicians took us all over the map, sometimes with limited instruction from Brian before they began, occasionally with music in front of them.

And they were all working hard at it, I know, because the room was comfortably warm with so many people and after each piece, Brian and Cameron would use towels to wipe sweat off their faces and necks.

We heard Brian's "Banjo for Ry Cooder" ("Who doesn't like Ry Cooder?"), Miles Davis' "Blue in Green ("The dark prince")," a song he'd written for J.C. (what do you expect when your last name is Kuhl?) and the title song to their latest album.

At one point, he said to the band, "Let's play a tune" and when no one suggested one, he instructed them to improvise one. Once we got to 10:20, they finished with an abbreviated version of their own "Catamaran."

Before the break and throughout the show, Brian didn't hesitate to remind the room that social media was off limits. Coming back after break, he asked the crowd if anyone knew who'd played piano on "Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood" and no one was certain. A guy offered to Google it (Johnny Costa) and satisfy the collective curiosity. But after that, no phones.

When the show ended, Brian made sure everyone knew that their next gig is at the VMFA's jazz cafe in December. "And no social media will be allowed there, either!" he warned.

Men who put music ahead of phone usage are a rare breed lately. After I finish swooning, I'm writing that date in my calendar.

Then maybe I'll start a Luddite fan club.

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