Thursday, September 22, 2016

Dance the Night Away

You know what this world needs? More female-fronted bands, that's what.

Proof positive presented itself tonight with three bands at Strange Matter representing Richmond, Denver and Athens, Georgia and a wildly enthusiastic, albeit not as large as it should've been, Wednesday crowd.

Do you remember twenty first night of September?
Before you go cold like December
All you saw was a cloudy day...

Greeting me first were a couple of guitarists lamenting Richmond's tardiness to shows, something they said they didn't see when touring other east coast cities. In those magical places, if doors were at 8 and music at 9, people began arriving shortly after 8 and were fully in place when the first band took the stage.

Mind you, they were telling me this at 8:45 when I was among the very few non-band members in the room. But they also mentioned the absence of simple amenities for bands - rooms to stow gear and change, food - basically just good hospitality.

The kind of thing I would never know, being a non-musician.

I heard about opening band Positive No's tradition of pre-show Jagermeisters and when I wondered aloud about the choice of shots, got testimonials.

Matt recalled a night when his stomach was badly upset just before their set and the Jager calmed it (well, it is a digestif) and Kenny told of a night he was flat out beat, yet felt completely energized afterward.

It's hard to argue with the restorative powers of a good shot, no?

Tracy, the queen bee of Positive No, came over looking fabulous, as always, in a brightly colored tunic and make-up that would have done the mod era proud, and the best smile in the room. Her energy glowed.

The good news was she had a friend in town from Seattle, a musicologist she called him, and she wanted to introduce us because she thought we'd hit it off conversationally. Conversation, we agreed, could be bested only by sex and even better when they go hand in hand.

Positive No's set was partly bittersweet because it was bassist Matt's last show with the band, meaning I had to drink in as much of his excellent playing as possible, while appreciating the visual of his curtain of hair obscuring his face when he really got going.

Luckily, I can continue to revel in Kenny's killer guitar playing.

The band's pop strength is catchy hooks, fuzzy guitars, changing dynamics and the pull of Tracy's voice as she dances, bounces and totally inhabits any space not occupied by a bandmate. Tonight we even got a few new songs, a real treat for someone who's seen them as often as I have.

From the stage, she talked about deciding to move to Seattle the year grunge (i.e., Kurt Cobain) died and then introduced her Seattle friend from the stage.

By the time their excellent set ended, the room had finally filled up nicely. Afterward, I saw a guy buy the band's album and shyly take it over to Tracy to sign, looking for all the world like a devoted fan boy.

After a quick trip to the loo (graffiti: It's not always easy to smile but it's easy to drink beer ~ a drunk Mac Mac), I approached the Seattle visitor to let him know that Tracy thought we'd have conversation and music in common, notwithstanding his second concert ever being Van Halen.

Oh, the things we overlook for the sake of conversation.

Without so much as asking my name, he followed Tracy's directive ("But of course!), asking where we should talk and accompanying me to my spot near the sound booth so we could dive into shared musical interests, why he's back in Virginia for the election cycle ( a thing he does every four years) and our shared disdain for arena shows.

Then Denver's Dressy Bessy took the stage to show us how many influences they could channel with singer Tammy's endless energy at the forefront. Well matched with Positive No's boundless energy, I could also see them on a bill with Tacocat.

Mixing the energy of punk with the girliness of pop and a smidge of twee, the band delivered a solid set with Tammy's left leg constantly in motion dancing, pointing, twisting and kicking for emphasis.

"Are you excited about seeing Pylon Reenactment Society?" she asked the crowd. "We are! They're our heroes, too, so we'll be geeking out as much as you guys!"

The visitor and I used the break to expand our conversation, talking about venue histories and our own musicality (mine being none). He admitted that music was not in his purview until punk and hardcore came along and it no longer mattered that he didn't really have the chops to play.

Just as the next band was getting set up, he looked at me and wondered aloud if we'd even introduced ourselves or had just jumped into conversation. Oops. Intros were made.

The headliner was Athens' Pylon Reenactment Society, a band built around the seminal Athens band Pylon that had come out of the same scene that birthed REM and the B52s, both of whom have repeatedly acknowledged their debt to Pylon.

But founding guitarist Randy died a few years ago, so the band no longer considers themselves Pylon, but a reenactment of them, done in the spirit of Pylon with its original lead singer.

Let's put it this way: it was more than enough reason to be at a Wednesday night show.

Singer Vanessa seemed clearly overwhelmed with the rampant love and fandom in the room, saying, "One guy here told me that his first show at the 9:30 Club was Pylon! I guess I shouldn't talk about it, but thanks so much for coming out!"

Years gone by aside, certainly her particular style of singing and phrasing was as unique and compelling as it had always been.

From there, we were treated to punchy vocals, distinctive melodies and, for those of us who recall the Athens scene, reminders of how fresh their sound of jangle pop via Gang of 4 was to our ears back then...and now.

Vanessa still does her arm waving, body bending style of dancing, continuing the evening's trend of non-stop movement both onstage and in the audience. She called up Tracy and a fan onstage for one of the last songs, making for a room full of dancers on and off stage.

They may be reenactors, but Pylon's spirit was as alive and enthralling as ever.

Walking home at nearly 1:00, it was a full-on party on Grace Street with Ipanema's patio full, people cruising the streets, shouting across them to have conversations, cars with windows down and music blasting and a general vibe of fun.

The whole city feels it when estrogen times three is on a Wednesday bill. Girl power must be in the air.

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