Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Understanding the Melody

Today's weather was the evil twin of yesterday.

I wish I'd written that, but I didn't, I just read it and thought it was brilliant. Despite the cold, the rain and the persistent gray, I walked to Church Hill and back. And then promptly called a Church Hill friend to suggest we do dinner.

After getting so much done this afternoon that I was drunk on my productivity, I was ready for a good night. Friend picked me up in the fog and we spent several pleasurable hours catching up and chowing down.

Since I'd last seen him, he'd become an official old man - advised by his doc to take meds for high blood pressure and cholesterol and to get more exercise. Although he'd picked up the prescriptions, his plan was to hang on for a few years and then ignore the doctor's advice like his 80-year old mother does about her health.

This seems to be a trait that runs in middle-aged men. Tragic, really.

We compared notes on the InLight installations we'd seen in Monroe Park a few weeks ago, although he'd missed my favorite, the candlelit interior of the cathedral, a breathtaking sight I will never forget. But he had pictures of himself with various light pieces and I didn't, so he had better show and tell.

I tried to convince him to join me for a show afterwards, but he pulled another old man move, citing an early morning and dropping me off at Gallery 5 so he could go home and to bed. It was 8:00.

We all do what we have want to do.

Technically, the show was free, but I made a donation at the door because - I'm getting on my soapbox here - people deserve to be paid for sharing their talent and went inside.

There, I was unexpectedly greeted by Richmond Graphics' vintage poster show from the '70s and '80s. Besides the quality of the posters graphically (nothing computer generated here), it was amazing to see the shows that passed through VCU before I got here.

Like Nils Lofgren at the Empire Theater April 30, 1977 - tickets were $2 for VCU students and $4 for the public. While this poster probably only resonates with Springsteen fans these days, I was that girl who had Nils' first album and played it to death. Even bought a replacement copy of it two years ago.

Apparently VCU's Halloween Dance was a big deal back in the day. One year the Talking Heads played the new gym and another the Ramones played the old gym. Those must have been some dances.

Since I hadn't been expecting art tonight, I was pretty thrilled with such a stellar start to my evening.

Inside, I found a place to stand next to the radiator (merely warm, not hot, as I would have wished) and scanned the room for familiar faces. Slim pickins for friends tonight.

Manatree started playing minutes after 8, a fact I appreciated since so many shows punish the punctual and reward the tardy. I was amused to see that the bass player had draped his "Bieber" jacket across his amp.

Looking at these impossibly young musicians, I found something awfully familiar about them despite being quite sure that I'd never seen Manatree before.

Then it hit me. These guys used to call themselves Herro Sugar and I'd seen them many times, always impressed with their musicianship, energy and short, fast songs. A rose by any other name and all that.

At one point, singer Jack said, "Tristan, to my right over here, is going to sing the next one and do a fine job, too." The bass players crossed his fingers at this. For the record, Tristan did an outstanding job with his song.

During the slower song "Children," the bass player and drummer began fighting with plastic swords behind Jack as he sung, eventually laying down their arms and playing music again. It looked like everyone was having a great time.

Who knows why they changed their name (there couldn't have been multiple Herro Sugars, I wouldn't think)? All that matters is that they continue to develop into a band worth seeing.

During the break, I walked back over to look at the posters, overhearing an intense conversation. "You understand the melody in a more sophisticated manner," one intense bearded guy said to another. If you say so.

Back at my radiator, I felt a tap on my shoulder and turned to find my favorite dulcitar player at my side. He'd played Gallery 5 just last night but I'd missed the show so it was a treat to see him tonight. Actually, it's a treat to see him any time.

The next band was Recluse Raccoon and consisted of simply a singer/guitarist and drummer. Clearly we were in for something completely different.

He had a fine voice and well-written sings but I couldn't put my finger on what the sound reminded me of. About the closest I could come was a stripped down Band of Horses or Fleet Foxes, no doubt because of that voice and dense guitar sound.

When they finished, we were joined by a bass player I've seen many times but never met. I told her how much I'd enjoyed her new project at the Sound of Music show last week and she looked pleased. Before that, I'd only seen her playing in Fear of Music, a cover band.

Like us, she'd come out for a good show on a Tuesday night. No more of a reason than that was required. The three of us talked about what a great scene Richmond has and why it's completely unnecessary to move to a bigger city to make it. Witness all the people who do and end up moving back. We're just saving ourselves the trip.

The main event was NYC's Friend Roulette, a collective of guitarist, bassist, drummer, singer/violinist and (as I learned tonight from my musician friend) an EWI player. It looked like an electronic clarinet to me but was explained as a breath controller, essentially an electronic wind machine with a synthesizer inside.

The result was almost chamber pop, with a dreamgaze element. I'm a sucker for a female-fronted band especially when you throw in lush, dense music too. Songs tended to be soundscapes, long and meandering journeys for singer Julia to work her vocal wiles on the crowd. I succumbed immediately. "Stoned Alone" was particularly appealing.

Taken from life experience? I guess I'll never know.

But I could have killed the cutesy couple who planted themselves directly in my sight line just as their set began because they were either talking or sucking face while I tried to see around them.

Matt, who played the EWI and came across as the bandleader, thanked us for coming. "This is the start of a two week vacation for us playing music every night," he said excitedly. That's about the best way to look at a tour I've heard.

Standing there against the radiator listening to this eclectic and dreamy-sounding band seemed like proof positive of what a great place Richmond is.

Oh, excuse me, does your city have free concerts with three excellent bands on a Tuesday night? In a city where you don't have to work two jobs to support yourself? Where you can actually make a difference in what happens?

Too bad. It must be the evil twin of Richmond.


  1. saw Nils and his band in '74 or'75..

    pretty good show..


  2. Always loved his voice and guitar playing...

  3. me to ...he's a little guy..slight in stature. at first i thought he was a roadie out on stage but hey napoleon was short to. never should underestimate a person by how they look, height, etc. his band was great...afterwards he backed up neil young on occasion..even did a cover album of Youngs' songs. not bad either...sortta sad like Young. funny where life takes one isn't it. we do this & that & one day we end up here...where ever that is, which of course is always the BIG reality which hopefully we're comfortable with or it's something akin to what we wanted or adapted to..whatever worked out, 'cause for some ...nothing works out at least as they hoped or expected or dreamed but then no one really has all the answers anyway so in some ways we're all in the same boat which may or may not be going anywhere..."life is a beanstake" -- ya know?


  4. WoW! musta been a bad shot of teQuIlA i had an hour or so ago... u know whast that can do to your brain?


  5. I might know a little something about what tequila does to the brain...

  6. what does it all mean Karen?


  7. For me, it means I just keep on doing as much of what I enjoy as possible. What does it mean for you, cw?

  8. I think we'll be just fine. You and I, we've gotten the hang of this life thing.

  9. you betcha...still there's that occasional curve ball. ya see it's coming..still don't have time to duck.

    let's see this week it's the Grand Illumination, plus the Jeffersons' always nice. maybe a new film.. "Birdman" [not really new but good]...Andy's is puttin' on a show...tasty! River City rolls along. 'tis the season you know.

    writtin' too much again..time for a break.


  10. k...

    it's kinda cold outside -- wet to. where do you let to go on days like today?


  11. Yep, the kind of damp cold that chills you to the bone. I took my walk through VUU in the rain and then warmed up reading the paper over a bowl of soup. Just got back from doing an interview which required more walking in the rain. Days like this make it easy for me to stay home and be least until tonight's activity!