Thursday, October 8, 2015

High on Her Heels

The King of Diamonds runs into the Queen of Hearts at the Tiny Bar series and from there it got weird.

Before long, during a robust discussion of beer - which she doesn't drink - the  King, using his most stentorian tones, begins weaving a tale about hops being grown in the "Land of Gooch" and each time the Queen is just about to insert herself into his saga, he comes forth with further embellishment.

Her guess is he's only trying to hold the spotlight, but, no, he informs her, he's never made her smile so wide and he's loath to give up such an appreciative audience.

Tickets for tonight's Tiny Bar show at Black Iris were being sold at Steady Sounds and when I went to buy mine this morning, I was presented with a fanned deck of playing cards and told to choose from these cards into which information about the show had been cut.

Brilliant doesn't begin to cover it. It's ticket as art, pure and simple.

I chose the Queen of Hearts and when I got to the show, challenged a friend to guess which card I'd taken. It took him no time to guess Queen but his guess for which suit was clubs. "Because you're out all the time," he explained. 

Incorrect answer, but I like a man who has a reason for what he thinks.

He directed me inside to check out the gallery's new installation by Leslie Rogers, "PLAY/THINGS," a piece conceived by Rogers after a 9,000-mile cross country trip with musician/artist Nelly Kate doing performance art.

The centerpiece of the show is a large puzzle of the US fitted together and painted different colors, set on the floor. Scattered around various areas of the map are bags of regionally-flavored in potato chips. Along the walls are pieces of chips encased in lighted crystals.

With a sly sense of humor and distinctive materials, it's an unexpectedly fresh way to see the country as bagged snack food. Forget red state versus blue, chips flavors show the more subtle variations in Americans.

At the tiny bar in the back, the mood was set with dim lighting and votive candles evenly spaced out on opposite shelves that spanned two walls. A small crowd (well, obviously, it can't be larger than 52) waited to be wowed.

The show kicked off after gallerist Benjamin informed everyone that this was meant to be a unique experience, and then asked people to turn off their cell phones and refrain from flash photography.

Flashback to the Listening Room, except standing.

With no further ado, the young Daniel Bachman got very busy with both hands playing guitar and casting a spell over the room. Each musical piece was comprised of contrasting sections that seemed to tell stories that flowed into each other as each hand took on a completely different role.

"I've been driving around with Michael the past few days," he said between pieces. "He's got plenty of questions to answer, if anybody has any." Don't we all?

More than a few people in the room had the devoted look of guitar geeks and they watched the skillful Bachman reverently as he played, their eyes almost never blinking.

One song got stopped because he needed to dry off his sweaty hands and then ended early because, as he claimed, "I'm not right." When an audience member called out, "why?" he said he'd been staying up too late the past few nights drinking too much wine."

The rock 'n roll lifestyle will make you sweat.

He moved on seamlessly to another song and by then I'd realized that this was a musician you watched, not just listened to. It was theater, a complete audio/visual package and it was mesmerizing. I couldn't fathom why a few people stood in the hall where they couldn't see him when there was room inside.

After a half hour or so, his gorgeous set ended and mingling began. The King of Diamonds aka the Man About Town found me in short order, soon questioning me on whether I'd be at the house show Friday night.

Negative. Folk Fest, I explained, would take precedence.

"When did the scene become such that there is too much great stuff to do in one night?" he wanted to know. Oddly enough, I'd had the identical conversation with a Brazilian woman last week and her guess had been 5 or 6 years ago.

He went on to suggest that my blog has been a chronicle of how that scene has grown, how it's no longer a point of pride that there's something compelling to do every night, but that there are multiple things so now we inevitably miss appealing events because of something even more amazing.

First world problem.

Chatting with strangers after I heard the word "Norwegians" thrown out, I heard delicious details about some of the visitors' shenanigans at Poe's Pub, a bacchanal that apparently involved the Norwegians removing their shits and pants in short order and then dancing against the walls.

I'm not ashamed to tell strangers that I think I'd have had a blast had I been there, but one of the guys sharing this story is clearly appalled. "They wouldn't have looked at you, they were looking at me!"

And your point is? He stammers something about what might happen to him if he did that in a European bar. Peg you for an American due to your bad dancing?

Homophobic much, sir? When the King of Diamonds heard his position, he assumed he was joking. Regrettably, no, this is merely a case of bad-weird, not nearly as satisfying as good-weird.

Fortunately, music was preparing to start up again so the Queen could escape this clueless sap.

I'd last seen English guitarist Michael Chapman, who's made 30 albums in the span since 1967, at Sprout back in 2011. He still looks like an older guy in a trucker's hat with a twinkle in his eye to me.

His playing immediately made clear not only the clarity of the sound in the tiny bar room, but reminded me what a major league talent this guy was, blending elements of jazz, blues and even folk with such obvious prowess as to make it seem effortless.

As he tuned between songs, he wasted no time in telling stories and cracking wise ("How can you lose something as big as Texas?' after someone tells him they don't know where Texas is) in his English accent. He talked about writing about three trains and then four trains and then losing interest. About how sometimes he starts upstairs and then can't recall what he went for.

"But sometimes I find something better!" he says, sounding completely sincere.

Saying he used to play with John Fahey ("He was an incredible guitar player and a weird human being"), he did a song about dining with Fahey in Los Angeles years ago. We heard about his trip to Uncertain, Texas because he couldn't not go once he found it on a map.

As you might guess, a Queen loves that kind of attitude.

Chapman introduced "Just Another Story," the first song with a vocal, as a song about "that American icon, the truck stop waitress." Best lyric: She's high on her heels, But down on her luck."

You gotta live some life to come up with that kind of sentiment.

More of his life came out with "Shuffle Boats Farewell," a song about the boats of his youth and a story about being sent to take a traffic census in the woods but instead sitting down against a tree and playing guitar for hours.

"I finally figured out they wanted me to tell them how many cars would go by if they built the road. Think about it!"

I didn't have time to because he was on to another song, this one plaintive.

A fly buzzes around
There's nothing I can do
It's like the memory of you
There's nothing I can do

His set came to an end all too soon and the small audience gave him a massive ovation, not to mention cheering, for his bravura performance and all-around good attitude.

"I always say this and I always mean it. It's really friggin' weird what happened." Weird in a good way, I'm sure.

A few more of these Tiny Bar shows and I'll have a royal flush. Wait'll you see how my smile widens then.

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