Monday, June 15, 2015

What's to Come

Let's adjust to the rhythms of almost summer, shall we?

When the sky is still pale blue at 9:00 and the temperature's only dropped to 80 outside, it only makes sense to go to a show that starts at 10.

Even so, when I'd bought my ticket weeks ago, I'd had no clue how oppressive it would be or that I was signing on to spend a hot night in a venue known for its anemic air conditioning. Good thing I like heat.

Mid-afternoon, the phone unexpectedly rings and it's the recent blast from my past with an invitation to go see Tom Chapin play at Tin Pan tonight. I no sooner decline when a friend posts that she's got an extra Prince ticket for the show in D.C. tonight.

If I didn't have such stellar memories of seeing Prince twice in the '90s, I might have jumped on that second offer, but no. I was going to see Avers and Strand of Oaks, as planned.

Positioning myself in my usual spot at Strange Matter - in front of the water dispenser - and waiting for Avers to take the stage, a favorite bartender I hadn't seen in ages came over for water and spotted me. He was on a  guys' night out and as thoughtful as ever ("It's so nice to see you. And you look great!" while gesturing at my flowered sundress) and I was genuinely happy to chat with him until the band began.

Filing onstage in single file, Avers proceeded to reward their local fans with their usual well-oiled machine of a set. With four guitars for any given song, it's a constant guitar fest with meaty interludes where everyone gets to show off, the way they also do with the many false stops and precision restarts that characterize their songs.

I love watching guitarist Charlie (whom I know from the Trillions) because he's not only multi-talented but a showman as well, lifting his knee to prop up his guitar or playing it perpendicular to his body. When his considerable talents were required to play keyboard, he'd sling his guitar behind him and proceed to use his knees and full body to play it. When the bass player sang lead vocal, Charlie played her bass for her.

My fourth grade teacher would have called him an asset to the class.

Also a pleasure to watch is James, a guitarist I first heard as part of Mason Brothers a couple years ago, for his expressive voice and low key yet appealing stage presence. He doesn't play or sing with a "look at me" frenzy, but I often found myself looking at him.

After their set ended and a trip to the always amusing bathroom (no TP but graffiti that read, "F*ck Punk!"), I had time to take attendance in the room and note the DJ who hadn't been able to take a nap despite laying down this afternoon, the guy my age who goes to as many shows as I do, the WRIR crew, the pensive songwriter.

Usual cast of characters, in other words.

During the break, the room cooled down a bit as people went outside to smoke, but once back, the infrequent hits of cooler air could barely address the radiating warmth of all the bodies. Good thing I like heat.

Then Strand of Oaks took the stage, with leader Timothy announcing, "It's Sunday f*cking night in Richmond! This is gonna be good!" A friend and I had already discussed that we'd made the right choice of where to be tonight.

Part of that is that Strand of Oaks' music references the '70s with wailing guitars, a sound I know well from my youth but don't listen to much now, but with an Americana feel that resonates as harder than most music of that genre. "Goshen '97" about growing up in his hometown got the crowd's attention with lyrics about teenage angst and shredding guitars.

"I haven't drank Black Label in 12 years," Timothy said, holding up a can. "It's good to be back." Turns out most of his tattoos had been acquired here on frequent trips while touring. Our ink cred stays strong.

"Daniel's Blues" was about Dan Aykroyd wanting revenge on Belushi's drug dealer. After the song, he said, "I remember my Dad had the Blues Brothers album on vinyl, pink vinyl. It had a naked lady picture on it, a Playboy picture. Thanks for showing a young man what was to come!"

His band was excellent, a fact he acknowledged when he introduced them, recalling the days when he toured alone with his guitar (and apparently frequently to Richmond). Now the band brings to life his big-as-the-'70s guitar sound and he seems thrilled, much like the crowd when they did "Shut In," a song with a big anthemic chorus that got the guy in front of me playing air guitar.

My bartender friend walked by, looking happy as a clam, and telling me he was blown away by the band. "I can't take my eyes off his face," he said. Timothy has a look with long, dark hair halfway down his chest and a huge beard, but there was such happy energy he was projecting that I found it compelling.

It was after midnight when he told the room they could play all night but that they would play one more song and "burn it extra long." It was "JM," a song about singer Jason Molina, and the band did indeed take us out with swelling and crashing guitars that sounded post punk and classic rock simultaneously.

Walking out into the warm night air that had barely dropped in temperature since I'd gone in, I found Grace Street quiet. The students are gone and everyone else must be in their air-conditioned homes.

A perfect time to walk home enjoying a summer night. Good thing I like the heat.

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