Saturday, May 2, 2015

Do You Appreciate My Company?

Sometimes having a fabulous night is purely circumstantial.

The only thing set in stone was an early dinner. My date wanted sushi and I wanted to try the new Akida, recently moved from its long-time Robinson Street location to the Devil's Triangle.

Early as we were, every table was taken so we took up residence at the sushi bar and were soon joined by other stragglers. After both ordering Combo #4, our server brought miso soup within seconds, but the surprise was when one of the sushi chefs handed us each a salad, saying it was with his compliments.

Akida's food never disappoints and tonight's cucumber roll, avocado roll and four chef-selected pieces of sushi - yellowtail, salmon, tuna and mackerel - all tasted amazingly fresh. And who doesn't appreciate a good sinus cavity-cleansing when you take in just a tad too much wasabi?

Much as we wanted to linger over wine, a line had formed at the door for seats and we felt too guilty to camp out. Pity.

Back in Jackson Ward, I made tracks for First Friday.

First stop: ADA gallery for Bruce Wilhelm's "Paintings/Props/Intermediaries," 60 colorful mixed media paintings hanging on a huge wall, related sort of, and not.

Next door at Ghostprint Gallery was "Signes and Symboles," with ethereal work by two female artists I'd seen before, Catherine Brooks and Tifenn Python. The news there was about Ghostprint's upcoming pop-up at the Cookie Factory. I'm looking forward to art on that side of town for a change.

At Candela Gallery's new show, I couldn't get over the sheer number of people (okay, students probably) on their phones rather than looking at Daniel Leivick's striking photographic exhibit, "Heliopolis."

On the couch at the front of the gallery, a couple sat, arms and thighs touching, both staring fixated at their cell phones and exchanging zero conversation. What's the point?

Fortunately, once I made my way to the back gallery, there were plenty of intense-looking student/photographer types peering intently at the satellite photos over which Leivick has inserted images of complex civilizations.

"Ooh, that thing that looks like an ant is a car!" one co-ed squealed after studying a photo from two inches away.

Circumstance delivered me a surprise upon leaving when I heard the most incredible voice coming out of Souleil, a vintage boutique I'd never even noticed before.

Standing against a deep orange partition, a woman was playing guitar and singing, pulling in almost everyone who heard her from the street. Listening, I perused the racks of clothing only to find so many styles and fabrics I remember from the '70s. Granny dress complete with lace? Check. India print tops and dresses? Yup. Maxi skirts? Oh, yea.

At one point, the singer motioned to a guy who'd come in, saying, "You wannna freestyle for the people?" and sure enough, he stepped up and began rapping while she filled in with background song. I stayed through it all.

Heading to Gallery 5, I passed Comfort, where a drummer friend was taking someone's order at a table in the front window and waved at me in recognition. Poor thing, working First Fridays is no fun, I know.

Showing at G5 was "Communication Arts Senior Exhibit," which meant scads of people (even some parents) and a wide-ranging show. Honestly, what surprised me most was that several students had done botanical illustrations for their senior projects. They were exquisite, but who knew kids today were even into that?

Downstairs, I caught part of Manatree's set, enjoying their youthful energy and as always, impressed with their musicianship, obvious pleasure at playing and short, fast songs. Because I've seen them plenty of times, I had no guilt about not staying for their whole set and, besides, I had a new gallery to check out.

30/60/90 had intrigued me from the first time I saw those numbers painted on the door because it gave no clue to what it was. Only after talking to someone did I learn it was a gallery and then I was impressed because it's off the beaten gallery path.

Walking in, the overhead music was loud, the art was eclectic and it reminded me of some of the more DIY galleries that inhabited Brook Road 7 or 8 years ago such as Transmission Gallery.

There was a large sculpture made of lampshade frames with orange yarn and fabric woven over the edges. A pipe in the gallery had been yarn-bombed. A line of ceramic snails made its way along the staircase ledge.

Busy taking in such varied art, I didn't even hear the group arrive, but all of a sudden, a cadre of activists gathered at the front of the gallery holdings signs saying, "#blacklivesmatter" and sequentially began reading a treatise about Baltimore's situation.

Everyone in the room listened and applauded. After they concluded, they disappeared as silently as they'd come.

I'd decided to make a pit stop at GWAR Bar since it was practically next door and I figured the odds were low that it would be inundated with suburban art walkers since they rarely like loud metal offending their delicate eardrums.

It was busier than I expected, but not so much so I didn't find a stool and order Espolon easily.

The guy in the next stool said hello and dramatically laid his hand palm down on the bar next to me. Unsure if this an international symbol for something with which I was not familiar, I did the same. What's up with that, mister?

"Just checking your marital status," he explained, grinning widely. "So you're not married?" So you're not blind?

Conversation revealed that he'd been there already for hours, having come from work, but he also lives in the neighborhood, so he considers GWAR Bar his hangout bar. That seems to be true of most of the men I've met there.

Maybe it was all that after-work drinking, but it took him no time at all to begin steering the conversation to men and women, the pitfalls of dating, the importance of not waiting too long to have sex in a relationship and a dozen other topics he needed to get off his chest.

When he asked me, apropos of nothing, if I liked wine, I naturally said yes, not seeing the landmine I was stepping in. I deflected his invitation by explaining that I was going to a show shortly and he departed soon after.

That left me to sip my Espolon and watch the movie playing on the screen over the bar. I had no idea what it was, so when a guy took the stool next to me, I asked.

He looked at me incredulously, saying, "It's 'Dawn Till Dusk,' a Quentin Tarantino movie. It's really old." Of course I had to ask what he considered really old. "Mid-nineties. I was in, like fifth grade and I'm in my mid 30s now. Look how young George Clooney is," he said.

Oh, I'd already picked up on that (35 can be a really attractive age for men).

My new friend introduced himself as Jay and after shaking my hand, turned to the bartender. "She's never seen 'Dawn Till Dusk," he marveled. Minutes later, as a bloodbath erupted on the screen, he leaned in and warned me that we were coming up on the ending.

It was a good thing because I was tired of seeing people explode.

Naturally he had to ask why I hadn't seen it (I don't know, better movies to see in 1996?), amazed that I don't watch movies on TV. Knowing I could top that, I said I didn't have a cell phone and his jaw dropped.

That was a ten-minute conversation, but it finished satisfyingly, with him acknowledging, "I get it, you want to be in control of being bothered." Bingo.

He, too, said GWAR Bar is his bar, so when I left for the show, we shook hands, knowing we may very well see each other there again.

Back at Gallery 5, I caught the last five songs of Claire Morgan's set, wedging myself through the huge crowd to enjoy their well-crafted songs. I swear, they get better every time I see them.

Next up was Brooklyn's Ava Luna and while they set up, I scanned the crowd, always a source of entertainment.

One guy had on a t-shirt with the last two lines of Keats' "Ode to a Grecian Urn" on it.

Beauty is truth, truth beauty, that is all
Ye know on earth and all ye need to know

One guy had on a red satin KTVO jacket. Another guy had on a hoodie, the back reading, "Start jumping out of planes," with a drawing of bodies splattered on the ground.

I spotted the VCU professor I shared a few dates with 13 years ago. I recall introducing him to tequila and him not handling it very well. I waved hello and found a spot across the room.

Ava Luna (two girls, three guys) came out looking like your usual indie rock outfit with two guitars, bass, keys and drums. Right off the bat, they got major points for having three vocalists and the slinkiest of grooves.

It was soon apparent that Ava Luna's sound was heavily soul-influenced and the crowd responded by grooving in place almost constantly. Really, it was impossible not to.

Behind me, I overheard a guy observe, "It's like dirty hippie prom music," but he looked to be about 28, so I'm not sure he knew from dirty hippies.

What I heard was more Prince-influenced with front man Carlos invoking the master with his falsetto and smooth delivery while a distinctive bass line carried him along. But just when I thought I had them pegged as neo-soul, they threw me for a loop.

Melding post-punk, almost jazz-like elements, terrific harmonies, high drama and abrupt tempo changes, this was a band that was constantly surprising the crowd, who loved it. The way this quintet played off each other screamed talent and practice.

One thing that occurred to me was that no one in Richmond sounds anything like these guys. Which is a shame, because I was crazy about what I was hearing.

Late in the set, I spotted a drummer friend and his wife, who looked to be enjoying Ava Luna as much as I was. Joining them, we marveled that this was a free show.

They said that this was their second time seeing the band and they'd been blown away the first time just like me. They were just so good at what they were doing.

Ah, but my friend had intel about that. Seems that Carlos' Dad had been a soul DJ back in the '70s, so he'd grown up with this music.That explained a lot.

When the band said it was their last song and then they'd be at the merch table, my friend said, "Uh-uh, this won't be your last song." It was clear that the audience wouldn't accept that.

Sure enough, they left the stage, the canned music came up and the crowd yelled "one more song" until they returned, already halfway to the table by the time they realized.

"Usually when the house music come on, people just disperse," Carlos said from the stage. "Not Richmond."

Indeed. They played us one more song that ended with chanting and dissonance but still felt soulful before heading to the merch table and effectively ending the night.

I headed in the same direction, intent on buying a CD, only to find a line already formed. A guy came up to Carlos, telling him he couldn't find the band's van outside. "Never mind, I'll deal with that later." Looking at me, he said, "I'm a little overwhelmed at the moment."

I bet. After I bought my CD, I raved about their sound and asked about his Dad.

"Yea, he was a soul DJ." he said smiling and shrugging his shoulders. "So my music's circumstantial."

No more so than that it was at the ninth place I wound up tonight that I got lost in some of the finest grooves I've heard in ages. I call that hella good circumstances.


  1. It's clear I need to wander more.

    And..."yarn bomb." I will FIND a way to use that in daily discourse.

  2. You do! So much out there, you know.