Sometimes speed is of the essence. Other times, not so much.
A while back, a friend e-mailed to ask me to meet him for a drink. He caught me just as I'd stopped working so I told him I'd have to shower and get ready, so it would be about an hour and a half.
He made fun of me for months afterward for my pokiness even when I reminded him that women necessarily take longer because we have legs to shave and hair to dry. I also took his mocking to heart and streamlined my process so I can get it done in 45 minutes when necessary.
As it turned out, tonight was one of those times.
By the time I finished writing and looked at the clock, it was 6:45, not a big deal except I had no plans. A quick look at what was happening tonight and I saw that Banks was at the National, mere blocks away. Bingo! I could make this happen.
At 7:45, I left the house shaved and dry headed, wishing I could let my friend know how efficient I've gotten about getting ready. I bought a ticket and found my usual spot in front of the sound booth just as the lights dimmed for local band Cosby (unfortunate name these days).
A large blue-lit "C" graced the side of the stage as the Richmond trio came out, immediately letting the crowd know they were hometown boys. I'd heard of them but my impression had been that they were pretty mainstream, so I hadn't sought them out.
When one of the Cosby brothers pulled out a key-tar, the crowd started yelling, "Key-tar!" in recognition. "We missed the '80s," the guitarist said. "But we have key-tar!"
Although they said it was their third time playing the National this year, they don't seem to have teh hang of it yet. The lead singer was completely without personality, never smiling at the crowd, in fact rarely looking at us, and cutting off his brother every time he tried to banter with the audience.
Worshipers of the '80s, their sound was anthemic and totally absent anything I hadn't heard a zillion times before. What they did have going for them was how good the brothers' voices sounded together.
Before their last song, the singer took off two of the multiple bracelets on his arm and tossed them out to the crowd. They began the last song twice but technical difficulties reared themselves and they finally yelled, "F*ck it" and started packing up.
They didn't seem to mind any more than we did.
During the break, I looked around the room watching it get fuller but seeing no one I knew. Finally, the lovely Anousheh said hello,expressing the same confusion about why more people weren't at this show. "Banks is huge," she said before leaving to find a spot up front. She said she wanted to study her moves before her own next tour.
Some lame DJ from XL102, the sponsor of the show, took the stage to tell a bad joke. "Why doesn't Stevie Wonder see his friends?" she queried the crowd, who yelled out that he was blind. "No, you judgmental assholes, because he's married!" I'm inclined to think a millennial wrote that joke.
Banks' drummer and guitarist/keyboard player took the stage first and began playing before she danced onstage looking like a British 19th century schoolmarm in a black capelet over a long black skirt. Only her pale face and slender forearms showed outside of the voluminous ensemble as she began singing "Alibi."
Baby, I tied
I promise I'm usually better than this
Under five banners spelling out BANKS hanging from the light rigging, she proceeded to sing her downtempo R & B-laced pop while prowling around the stage pretty much non-stop. Her hands were the most expressive part of her body, floating around like a dancer's in graceful perpetual motion.
She shared that her Dad's side of the family is from Virginia before launching into the title track from her new album. "I think every single woman is a goddess and this song is called "Goddess." The devoted fans down in front sang along.
"I'm so glad my album is out. It felt like those songs have been in a little box for so long. This one is "F*ck Em, Only We Know"
We're just like magnets, baby, hypnotized,
Even addicted to your grumpy face
It was obvious Banks was feeling the powerful thrill of an adoring audience, often sticking the microphone out toward the crowd so she could hear them sing her lyrics. When she instructed, "Every single person in this room, put up your hands," they obeyed and swayed as if under a spell.
As she sang, she'd prance backwards into the shadows between the other two musicians and then sidle forward back into the light. And she wasn't hesitant to touch the hands of people in the front rows. "I love you!" a guy called to her as moved to the keyboard. "Love you back!" she said, no doubt delighting him.
Considering I went to the show having heard only one Banks' song, I was unprepared for the range of emotion and power she could alternate with sweetness and sorrow.
Saying, "You were perfect," she sang the terrific and soulful "Begging for Thread," a song that lays bare a woman hurt by her man and left the stage, saying goodnight.
The devoted crowd chanted till she returned and asked, "Do you guys know Drake? I want to do a cover of a song of his I've been listening to non-stop." It was an interesting choice because "The Motion" sounded like exactly he kind of beat-based R & B slow burner she writes but from the man's point of view.
She closed with "Stick" while moving along the edge of the stage running her hand up against the fingertips of anyone with outstretched hands, giving us one last chance to experience her vulnerable sound.
Her set lasted just a bit longer than it had taken me to get ready to go see her. Still, you want to look like a goddess when you go to see one.