Sunday, July 19, 2015

Sweet Caroline, Love Will Tear Us Apart

Good thing I already have the big hair. Today was a day which both began and ended in the '80s.

First on my to-do list was to take a man who has been been known to pick me up in his car with Neil Diamond playing to see a Neil tribute band. That's right, the always enjoyable Diamond Heist was playing their monthly musical residency at Cary Street Cafe.

Arriving early enough to stake two choice seats at the end of the bar, we ordered lunch minutes before the show began.

"We're the Shivers and it's 1989," singer Will announced. "Everyone's 25 years younger, but it won't last." A guy walking toward the door to smoke on the patio looked up and commented as he passed, "I had hair."

Sweetheart, we all had things in 1989 we no longer have. I'm willing to bet that some of the women in the room could still pass the pencil test back then.

The band played through original and cover material, including "Dear Prudence," with references to drummer Rick 's house where the back door was always unlocked. Farcically, Will also thanked the Diamond Center for allowing the band to play. "I pulled some strings."

After playing "Vancouver," Will joked, "That was our stealth hit." After playing "89," he hit it again. "That was our second stealth hit." Hits or not, they looked to be having a good time playing together.

During the break, we were chowing down on black bean nachos (my date supplemented with a sandwich) when a guy appeared next to me looking anxious. "I left my card here last night," he told the bartender. "It's red."

Were you drunk, I inquired. "Yea, it's about the tenth time I've done that here." Sounds like someone has a bit of a problem.

When the girl returned with his card, she informed him they'd given themselves a 20% tip on last night's tab. "I'd have given you that much," he gushed, clearly relieved at retrieving it.

The first thing Will announced when he and Diamond Heist took the stage was that today was the one-year anniversary of their gig at Cary Street. Unfortunately, there was no cake to celebrate.

Instead, there were lots of Neil Diamond songs the band had learned since I'd seen them last - "Desiree," "You Got to Me" ( a fave of my seatmate), "You Don't Bring Me Flowers" - and new bad jokes.

After doing "Red, Red Wine," Will reminded the room to tip their bartenders. "And on that note, order a drink." What drink, singer Rebecca asked, playing along. "Love on the Rocks!" and another classic song began.

Drummer Dean was in the hospital, so the crowd was instructed to send good vibes his way, while fill-in (and Shivers') drummer Ricky had learned 34 songs in four days to fill in. The guy did a helluva job.

As I pointed out to my companion, part of the pleasure of a Diamond Heist show is watching the arc of the crowd as they move from straight through loopy to drunk. It didn't take long before people were dancing, some slow dancing and others doing the pony like it was 1967.

A guy in a jean jacket, sleeves cut off, came in to pay his tab and I couldn't help but notice his jacket had a Mt. Calvary Cemetery patch. Since I've walked through that place, I asked why he had it. "I used to live there," he said sullenly as if that explained it.

It was during what Will had called the Neil Diamond polka - the song "Beautiful Noise (nerd alert: I had the album) - while I was chair dancing and having a ball that a stranger came up to me and whispered in my ear, "You have the best legs in the whole place."

I shared that with my date, who kindly confirmed it.

By now, I know I can count on the barn-burner "Brother Love's Traveling Salvation Show" to be the last song of the last set, but today we got a surprise. As is typical, there are always celebrants at a Diamond Heist show and why not, given the feel-good vibes and guaranteed dancing that accompanies their gigs?

Today we had a woman celebrating her birthday and a couple celebrating one month of wedded bliss (good luck with that) plus someone named Jenny who'd requested a song, a request they saved till last.

That's when drummer Ricky proved his range by not only drumming but by doing lead vocals on "867-5309/Jenny," which got all the drunk women on the floor and gave the rest of us flashbacks to 1982. In a good way, I mean.

I always have a terrific time at a Diamond heist show, so my concern was that the one I'd brung did, too, a fact he confirmed as we left, although his delicate ears were still bleeding from the volume. Since I ruined my ears years ago with overly loud shows, the level hadn't even registered with me after the opening notes of "Forever in Blue Jeans."

After my date dropped me off, I had less than an hour to get ready and over to the Visual Arts Center for Ian Curtis' birthday celebration. Although, does it count as a celebration if the birthday boy has been dead for 35 years?

I walked in to find several musician friends, helped myself to a bag of free popcorn and took a seat with a great view.

The James River Film Society was showing the documentary "Joy Division" along with a couple of experimental films made by VCU film professor Mike Jones back in his student days guessed it, the early '80s.

Jones had been a huge Joy Division fan and influenced by the band when he as making the films. The titles say it all: "Dead Love" and "Dead Friends." The former had been made after a break-up with his girlfriend and was pretty much a poem about his sadness set to black and white images shot at Belle Isle and narrated by trumpeter Paul Watson, whom I've seen many times.

After the second short about a friend who'd died in a car crash, I used the break to look at the outstanding collection of Joy Division records, singles and books on display in the back. Jones posited that their striking album art had probably caused scores of young people to go into communication arts.

Yea, and the rest to form bands.

Tonight's main feature was "Joy Division," a documentary about the seminal band and when better to show it than for lead singer Ian Curtis' birthday? I'd seen the film "Control" a few years ago when the James River Film society had shown it, but Jones said the documentary was better.

Honestly, when isn't a documentary better than a retelling of fact?

This one benefited from scads of fabulous footage of early shows and photo shoots of the four very young men from Manchester who saw an early Sex Pistols show at the Electric Circus and all resolved to form a band.

It didn't hurt that they were all talented and hard-working, none less than Curtis, the lyricist and singer whose frenetic moves onstage were mesmerizing. With the energy of punk and literary-based lyrics expressing complex emotions, they were a sensation almost from the start.

The most challenging part of the film was understanding the extremely thick accents of the musicians, producers and managers who were the talking heads of the film. Once I got past that, it was fascinating.

His wife refused to participate in the making of the film, but his lover agreed and her commentary was some of the most telling about Curtis' difficulties dealing with epilepsy and not wanting to let the band down." Onstage, it was like he was plugged into electric voltage. He was completely outside of himself."

Hardest to understand was how no one in the band paid any attention to the tortured lyrics he was writing or they might have had a clue how bad off he was. The band members admitted to not even listening to the words, a fact which is incomprehensible to someone like me who focuses on the words to a song.

The thing with a documentary is that you know going in how it will end, but you still get completely caught up in the information.

Because who could have imagined that he could have written as brilliant a pop song as "Love Will Tear Us Apart" in a mere three hours? Or that a member of the band would have been told that he'd committed suicide and gone ahead with his Sunday lunch? Or opted out of going to his funeral? Or that the name "Joy Division" came from the name the Nazis gave their military officers' brothel?

Of course it was a fabulous soundtrack because it was all Joy Division, impossible to hear without inadvertently hearing the hundreds of bands who have aped their style or Curtis' distinctive vocals in the ensuing years since his suicide in 1980.

As Neil Diamond sang back in the '70s, done too soon.

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