Thursday, May 19, 2016

So Here We Are/Positive Tension

Every evening should end with a man making the heart sign with his hands at me.

Part of my annual birthday celebration involves a designated birthday show (as opposed to any other live music I happen to catch during the festivities), but what are the chances I'd run into the same two guys I'd met at last year's birthday show?

Both at the National, then it had been Psychedelic Furs and tonight it was Bloc Party - a band I coincidentally saw ten years ago in June at Constitution Hall in D.C. - but the guys were the same, as was the spot where we reconnected: in front of the sound booth. Small world.

The band Oscar was fronted by a baritone Brit named Oscar who wore a knee-length dressing gown with red embellishment on the sides and a giant image of Mickey Mouse on the back over jeans and a t-shirt. Walking in mid-song, I nudged the guy next to me to ask if it was the first song.

"No, it's the third, but they're good!" he enthused, although I knew from the first two minutes of listening how good they were. I'd made a point to be there in time to catch Oscar.

Smart words, poppy lyrics and just the right amount of young man swagger made for an ideal start to my birthday show.

"I got all excited cause I thought Missy Elliott was from here," Oscar said. "She's not, though, she's from Norfolk." The audience begged to differ. "Portsmouth!" several people hollered.

Oscar shook his head. "Norfolk, Portsmouth, Richmond, you do know those were all English before you stole them?" I knew, but I can't vouch for the rest of the crowd. Hell, I was surprised at how many had the badge of youth, a telltale "X," on their hands.

Practically every song was dance-worthy, but "Daffodil Days" was one of those practically perfect ones that marries sunny 60s-sounding pop filtered through strong bass lines, occasional synths and '80s guitars.

Be still, my Aqua Net heart.

"Are you excited about seeing Bloc Party and the Vaccines?" Oscar asked the room. "We're here to. Warm. You. Up." Part blase, part sarcastic, Oscar's attitude was as colorful as his kimono and he'd already made me a fan.

After their set, the guys next to me needed clarification. They'd misidentified Oscar as the Vaccines because they'd never heard of either one and apparently have no access to the Interwebs to research such things.

From what I'd heard of the Vaccines' music over the past few years, I knew it was well-executed and incredibly catchy, but seeing lead singer Justin's bigger than life dramatics onstage - pointing at people in the crowd, dropping to his knees to sing from the floor, hands over his eyes for effect - only upped the ante.

Well, what did you expect from the Vaccines?

The chords of slow burner "Dream Lover" got the full effect with the fog machine, providing eye candy for those of us without slow dance partners, while the clever lyrics of "Bad Mood" ("Oh, am I not as thoughtful as you thought I'd be?") got points from the language geeks.

Part of the pleasure of Britpop is the Brit boys singing it and Justin was no exception. After multiple leans, one foot atop his monitor as his body arched out to the crowd, he showed himself to be a bit of a fop by tucking in his shirt, then blousing it out just a bit and adjusting his pants.

There! His look was complete again.

Naturally the crowd went bonkers for "Post Break-Up Sex" and "If You Wanna" off their first album in 2011, but really, between his theatricality, how tight they were and the catchiest of songs, their entire set was strong.

"So which band was that?" the guy next to me inquires after their set. I thought we'd covered this, but I needed him to guard my spot while I went to the loo, so I had to be nice.

When we got to chatting about Bloc Party, I was surprised to hear that while he loved the band's new album "Hymns," he had never heard any of the old stuff. I, on the other hand, have 2005's "Silent Alarm" and 2007's "A Weekend in the City" and don't know any material from 2012 on.

Together, we made one complete Bloc Party fan. Where I had the advantage was in knowing singer Kele's distinctive accent wherein all "th" sounds become "f."

"Fanks for coming out!' he calls. "It's always fun to get to see real America!"

So while I'd go crazy for "Banquet" ("A heart of stone, a smoking gun, I'm working it out"), he'd get excited about "Different Drugs" ("You're standing in the doorway with a look I used to know") from the new record.

I have to admit, I'd forgotten how shot through with post-punk revival guitar work their sound was, but that is in no way a complaint. Every guitar geek around me went nuts for the solos.

All three of us agreed that the turnout was far better than we'd anticipated for a Wednesday evening, the only problem being the late arriving trio who planted roots directly in front of us.

The couple was all hands while the long-suffering friend kept her gaze fixed forward, at least until they suggested leaving and she got furious. They wound up staying for two more songs before the girl stalked out. The funny part was that the couple didn't immediately leave, pausing to suck face hard for a couple of minutes before following what was presumably their ride.

"Peace out, Richmond!" Kele called to end my birthday show and a stellar evening of Britpop.

Walking out through the crowd, I spotted Oscar at his merch table alone. Sliding over, I told him that while I'd seen Bloc Party before and thoroughly enjoyed the Vaccines perky take on '80s pop, his was the performance that made my night.

And that, my friends, is how you get a man to make a heart of his hands and direct it at you.

Fair warning, though: I'm not entirely sure, but it may only work on British men or at your birthday show.

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