Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Boundless Southern Sounds

Zen archery, I didn't know that was a thing.

Ah, the pleasures of being out and eavesdropping in Richmond again.

I almost didn't go to Gallery 5 for music because it was 19 degrees, but I would have missed so much if I'd been a weather wimp.

Certainly I would have missed the hours spent standing up against a large radiator behind the merch table, the most wonderfully warm place I'd been all day.

Or running into the transplanted chef, back in town for two days, who regaled me with his New Year's Day antics in NOVA. After a stupidly busy holiday season, he and a coworker decided to spend the first day of 2016 relaxing, sitting on the roof contemplating the Potomac River.

Only problem was that when they climbed back inside the access window, they were spotted by a cop, who soon had the perimeter surrounded, Handcuffs were involved. "That was our New Year's Day," he said ruefully.

Other notables included the artist who'd done the InLight installation at the Confederate Memorial Chapel and my favorite history geek/guitar player.

Tonight's show did not start on time (no surprise there) but no one cared once Ben Shepherd took the stage singing such songs as "Silver Dog" ("Your eyes tell me you're young enough to forget where you came from") and another about the choice of our culture being to be without money or be without time (obviously, the first being my preference).

You could have heard a pin drop, the audience was so respectfully quiet so as not to miss a syllable of Ben's insightful lyrics. It took only until the third song for a girl to come over to the merch table and buy Ben's CD as he sang. Not long after he started his fourth song ("What is the price to keep the muse around?"), a guy came over to buy it.

This is the effect Ben Shepherd has on people when he sings. A friend of mine has long said that he's the best songwriter in Richmond and not too many people would dispute that, certainly not the third person who came over to buy his CD.

The beauty of tonight's show was talent and ease of transition, with singer/songwriter Cal Folger Day taking the stage very shortly after Ben left it. I'd seen her about a year and a half ago when she was still living in Brooklyn, having now relocated to Dublin.

"My plan is to warm you guys up with some songwriter stuff and then play my new opera," she announced, proving that she hadn't lost any of her quirkiness moving across the pond. Tonight is the first night of her two week tour with Ben and I could see why they'd be compatible tour mates since both write such smart lyrics.

Mostly playing keyboard ("Home's a place where I go crazy if I stay"), she also used Ben's guitar ("Your uncle made this, right? It's such a beautiful guitar.") and reminisced about her previous gig at Gallery 5 ("In my mind, it was still a working firehouse with fire poles and everything").

Memory is a tricky thing.

She did a song based on the diary of a Penobscot Indian woman and another about her time spent as a nanny before asking, "Alright you guys, are you ready for some opera? You brought your monocles?"

Oops, left it with my fox stole at home.

Based on Djuna Barnes' 1916 play and set to premiere in Dublin, the story of "The Roots of the Stars" concerned a woman waiting in a basement for years for her child to come home, with a friend to keep her company. "It was performed by the Provincetown Players, you know, Eugene O'Neill and Edna St. Vincent Millay and those cats."

In all likelihood, that was the first time O'Neill and Millay have been referred to as "cats." I love it.

Cal performed both parts (sample lyric: "It's glad I am to be at the roots of the stars") and warned us that it didn't have a happy ending ("She meets a donkey!"). Horrors!

When she finished, it was to pronounce in her lilting voice, "Stay tuned at your local opera house!" And bring your monocle while you're at it.

Last up was Lucy Dacus, which sounds like one person but is really Lucy with a band of guys, although the first song was just her lovely voice and her guitar. She opted not to wear her glasses for the show, saying that the last time she'd worn glasses at a show, they'd fallen off. She must have had the same problem with her pants, which she ritualistically pulled up after every song.

Her voice's timbre demands attention and lyrics about slow dancing at low tide were well suited to it. A song so new it was untitled ("If anyone wants to throw in their pitch") and caused a band member to ask, "Lucy, do we have to?" turned out to be a slow burner that'll undoubtedly become a set list standard.

Of course she did the charming "I Don't Wanna Be Funny Anymore," the song that;'s gotten her some national attention for its honesty and sheer listen-ability, but I was just as fond of lyrics such as, "Honesty is like a kiss on the lips. Come closer and I'll tell you all about it."

In song after song, she basically was telling us about it, about everything that's on her mind, in that strong, husky voice with her solid band backing her up.

The only disappointment of the set was that they didn't do Prince's "I Would Die 4 U," a song I've heard her do a couple of times and one that always impresses me for how sublimely she owns her cover of it.

Other than that, leaning on a deliciously warm radiator to hear three most excellent musical acts was about the best possible way to ease back into real life Richmond-style after my return from the West coast.

The zen of stellar music nearby on a cold night, that's a thing. It's glad I am to have it.

1 comment:

  1. Put together and played with Cal and Ben at their last show of the tour in Pittsburgh. Magical night.