Sometimes life is about choices. Of the random things that went on in my world today, let's see, I could write about...
~meeting a Georgetown University sports management major and talking about RFK Stadium
~the extended lunchtime discussion of race and politics at Croaker's Spot
~an unexpectedly teary at dinner
~a casual friend sharing that she was married for 42 days. "The first 30 were cool."
~the old rocker (his self-description when we met) greeting me by saying I smelled like I'd just showered
...it seems to me that the likeliest topic for my post should be semi-famous old rocker Tommy Stinson.
Approaching Gallery 5, my mind wandered to my life circa 1992, the year aforementioned semi-famous old rocker put out his first solo record post-Replacements breakup the year before.
His then-band name - Bash and Pop - said it all and I'd revisited it via my 24-year old CD as I drove around today, remembering how I'd used "Tiny Pieces" on several mix tapes I'd made for myself back in that other lifetime.
Why would I not come hear him live four blocks from home all these years later?
All the formerly young dudes were there, a fact which wouldn't have surprised me if I'd bothered to consider the thought. Women of a certain age showed in smaller numbers, like the suburban Mom (of a 19-year who only listens to Slipknot and Marilyn Manson...hmmm) standing next to me who admitted to being a Replacements fan, even once owning drummer Chris Mars' solo album.
P.S. She also left early looking bored. Pity.
Fittingly given what was to come, the opening band was "a less intimidating version of Long Arms," according to lead singer James when he introduced his fine band, meaning electrified acoustic guitars and less drumming.
The funny part is that sometimes James is just another history nerd I see at the noon lectures at the Virginia Historical Society and other times, like tonight, he's a rock god.
That is, when he's not grilling his band mates on the term for castrating chickens, which no one knew. Answer so you know for future Long Arms shows? Caponize. Put that in your crossword puzzle and finish it.
Not long after, James sighed dramatically. "We're going to singk about our feelings. Strap yourself in, kids," he warned, calling the band's sound tonight "castrated."
That's where James and I differed.
Of all the times I've seen and appreciated the talent of Long Arms, never have I enjoyed a performance so completely. Why? Because I could actually hear James' earnest and literate lyrics and comments referencing Kerouac, Country Joe and the Fish and, yes, his feelings. The band's energy, excellent guitar licks and dance-ability was still there, just not as ear-splitting (aka caponzing).
He didn't see it that way, yet this is a man who already knew what play Lincoln was watching at Ford's Theater and when I share that I saw most of it (until storming began), asks, "Before or after the line where he was shot?" Impressive, right?
"The next song is called "Party Girl" and it's for me," he said from the stage. No doubt.
Complete. Nerd. Slash. Rock. God.
No one wants their favorite Long Arms set to end on a Friday night, but sadly it did, freeing up James to mingle, wherein I could razz him about the show starting late. Would he want a history lecture to begin late? I think not.
The tardiness he casually explained away as due to the eating and drinking he, Tommy Stinson and cohorts had been doing at Comfort before the show, such an enjoyable exercise that the semi-famous old rocker had suggested moving his set time back to 10:15 to prolong it.
As you might imagine, no one was going to hold this man to a set starting time. Let's not forget "Never Aim to Please" was the first song on his first album.
When Tommy finally shambled up on stage alone with his guitar, it was with the same spiky blond hair and earring look he'd sported on that first Bash and Pop record. That it was just his acoustic and voice brought back the MTV Unplugged era in spades.
It wasn't the most organized set - "Hmm, what do I play now?" he mused more than once - but he's seasoned enough to effortlessly knock back a handful of new songs before telling a story about mistakenly leaving his Maker's Mark at the bar before coming onstage. The bartender had kindly brought it to him.
"If someone would be so kind as to order me another one, that'd be great," he announced to a roomful of fans. When it shortly arrived, he thanked the guy in the red shirt who'd delivered it and commented on how nice it would be to have a line of Maker Marks stretching to the speaker.
Even semi-famous old rockers can't drink all night without acquiring a little attitude, as evidenced when he sang, mid-song, "But I'll sing for all you mother-f*ckers here," and let out a rueful chuckle.
After the simplicity of the unplugged set, he invited his electric guitarist friend Chip Roberts, the other half of Cowboys in the Campfire (apparently the successor to Bash and Pop) to join him onstage for songs such as "On the Rocks" where Chip could show off his fantastic guitar chops.
It wasn't long before it became clear that these two have spent way too much time together on this tour with Tommy rolling his eyes when he noticed Chip still had his reading glasses stuck in his shirt and complaining, "Every f*cking day," likening their relationship to an uncle or a marriage (what?).
"No, no, I love him."
He should, considering all that Chip's pedal steel playing added to the song, "Match Made in Hell," a song he exhorted the crowd to join him on the chorus. "Match made in hell," yea, we got this.
This tour means Tommy's talking to lots of journalists and he's already tired of being asked "almost every day" about all the new books being written about Big Star, another band whose musical importance, like that of the Replacements, never translated to commercial success.
"I still listen to Big Star's music, but what's with all these books being written about them at the same time?" he grumbled before launching into a Big Star cover. Contrarian.
A set list was finally located but Tommy couldn't read it without glasses and he ignored Chip's offers of using his. The duo were clearly part Oscar and Felix.
Naturally, a semi-famous old rocker has to leave the stage so he can come back for an encore, thrilling the once young dudes and dudettes with the title song off that long-ago album, "Friday Night is Killing Me."
It hasn't so far, but I also just showered. Give it time.