Sunday, November 6, 2016

Throwing Darts in Lovers' Eyes

When it's the last full day of sunlight before the dreaded return of Eastern Standard Time, a girl can't help but make the most of it.

First off was the necessary step of coalition-building for those of us still smarting over losing our prime candidate. Fellow Jon Baliles devotees had organized a public meeting for those of us interested in seeing what the Baliles-approved candidate had to say in an informal setting.

It helped that Jon was there to support Levar Stoney's cause, but the bigger news by far was Levar saying Jon will be part of his team, thus ensuring that a long-time resident with City Council experience will be there to help the relative newcomer best work with the little people.

The people like me.

Because if the next mayor thinks for a moment that this is still a complacent city where we sit back and the mayor calls the shots with no input from us, that mayor is sadly mistaken.

I'm counting on Jon to help Levar make the most of his shot, but in a way that is most beneficial to the city, not anyone's political agenda.

From campaign headquarters, it was barely a hop, skip and a jump for Mac and me to Hardywood for a last-minute Ethiopian show.

Ethiopian keyboard legend Girma Beyene (known for his major role as part of the '60s "swinging addis" era music scene) and D.C.'s Feedel Band were making a stop at an unlikely place (it's far from the first time I've seen Ethiopian music, but it's always been at Balliceaux) for a late afternoon show scented with the overpowering scent of hops and brewing beer.

Could there have been a lovelier way to spend 90 minutes than with the doors wide open listening to their engaging blend of funk, jazz and Ethiopian rhythms?

The septet- the grand old gentleman Beyene, drummer, bassist, sax, trombone, congas/percussion, keyboards - wound a sinuous web of dance music to a crowd heavy on musicians, world music fans and staff from WRIR.

Charismatic doesn't begin to describe Beyene, who joined the others onstage mid-song and completely captured this audience member's heart as he nonchalantly played the keyboard, sang and smiled, all the while making everything look effortless and enjoyable.

About as effortless and enjoyable as it was to dance in place the entire time they played.

This was a man who long ago gave up showboating. After gesturing to introduce the band members, he grins at us and says, "And me, Girma!" as if there was any doubt in the room.

Walking out, I ran into the town pariah and chatted about how typically Balliceaux a band like this was, a bittersweet moment. In the car, Mac and I tried to imagine a better use of our afternoon and came up empty.

Between Mac dropping me off and a friend I hadn't seen in well over a year coming to fetch me, I had an hour, or just long enough to notice I had a moonflower blooming on my balcony.

I guess tomorrow's will be blooming around 4. Le sigh.

Dinner at Acacia was fabulous in all the usual Acacia ways - middle eastern trance music set the vibe, well-crafted drinks from a master at the bar, the chef's wife visiting tables to engage and laugh. When my friend admitted difficulty in choosing his meal, she suggested a new way of looking at eating.

"When I eat here, I always want to try something new, but I can't give up the white anchovies, so I just have them for dessert." As far as I can see, there's no difference in that and a cheese plate for the final course.

As pretty as it was flavorful, a salad of celery root, Granny Smith apple slices, frisee, black garlic and cider mustard vinaigrette was my first course, followed by rockfish collar with Napa cabbage, pickled carrot and daikon in a Thai chili vinaigrette that I all but ate with my fingers.

While he worked down cauliflower soup and seared scallops with gnocchi in Parmesan butter sauce (I'm no pasta fan generally, but the Irish in me sings a different tune when it comes to potato-based gnocchi), we got to talking about albums because he has more than anyone I know and he's about to have to move them so the room can be painted.

Bragging about a recent find (an 8-record set of The Cars), he admitted to coveting the upcoming 13-disc Dylan boxed set with several songs from Dylan's electric band, of which, apparently, my friend has always been inordinately fond.

This no doubt has to do with Dylan's first album being the very first album he ever bought.

We talked long and hard about what the Internet has wrought. "For Europeans, South Americans and Americans, the Internet is the closest to free speech we've ever seen," he suggests, questioning why the more prudish types can't just avoid the nasty bits.

Neither of us could stand the mortification of the editorial in today's Washington Post about our pedophile and exhibitionist mayoral candidate ("So how can it be that the city seems poised to elect a creepy, ethically clueless embarrassment as its mayor?" the editors muse), making us sound like country bumpkin idiots for the possibility.

After a decent interval, we ate some more.

In order to take my perfectly healthy meal of salad and fish and send it directly to jail (do not pass Go, do not collect $200), I had no choice but to finish with chocolate cremeux - that would be dark chocolate and cream mounded into a semi-firm ball  and adorned with strawberry fool - that would be chopped strawberries folded into whipped cream - and savor it as my arteries hardened at warp speed by the rapid influx of so much heavy cream.

We didn't so much walk out of Acacia as roll out.

Once he'd dropped me off, it was on to Vagabond for their first anniversary celebration in the Gypsy Room with Bowie tribute band Life on Mars playing.

Arriving in time to nab a prime bar stool, order a libation and eavesdrop on the staff ("Are you coming to my flute recital tomorrow?"), I also got their recap of last night ("He was so drunk he left his bike somewhere, walked all the way to Scott's Addition and back and now has no clue where his bike is. He looked at Google Maps to see where he walked and it was this crazy-ass route!").

Several of them were concerned because the schedule extended no further than tomorrow, but no one seemed to know how to make the appropriate person get it done. When they realized that Dweezil Zappa is playing the National tomorrow night, they began to question the staffing for it.

"If it gets wild, text me and I'll come in," one server said. Almost overhearing, the bartender asked what was up for tomorrow night since he's off and he, too, said he'd then wait for a text from her in case a crowd appeared.

I felt like I was witnessing the set-up for the barking chain of dogs in "101 Dalmatians."

Curious about what bands brought in what audiences, I asked one of the guys. Seems country brings in people who want a full meal first and come back for drinks afterward, while metal brings drinkers who don't eat. EDM attendees don't even show up to drink, I have it from the horse's mouth.

By then, people were sprawled on the couches, the bar was lined with sitters and the standing and a knot of ridiculously tall people had gathered at just the right place to block the view of me and the other short women behind them.

With the exception of singer Will Gorman, all the members of Life on Mars took the stage and began playing until he joined them, clad as the Thin White Duke adjusting his shirt cuffs and launching into "Station to Station."

It was an immensely satisfying moment, all the more so for the only other time I'd seen this band: January 8th of this year. The date was significant then because Bowie's new album was about to come out and Will exhorted us to go buy it.

The reality was that Bowie died January 10th, so the last time I saw Life on Mars, they were a band covering a living musician and tonight they were doing more of a memorial performance. Weird.

But no matter the state of Bowie, the band was incredibly tight-sounding and Gorman exhibited his stellar Bowie dance moves whether singing "Blue Jean," "China Girl" or showing off during extended guitar solos.

Looking around the dimly-lit, low-ceiling Gypsy Room, the singer commented on the red walls, glowing back bar and piano motif, calling it really classy. "We should be a jazz band," he quipped.

The band pared it down to a couple of acoustic guitars for "Starman" and "The Jean Genie," causing the staff near me to get apoplectic about it ("Is this gonna be an acoustic set? That's not gonna play here!") when actually it had been announced online that they'd do an acoustic set.

Suddenly I felt a hand on my shoulder and turned to find the chef, providing an opportunity to congratulate him on his first year at Vagabond. Man, that went quickly.

Many in the crowd were devotees of Bowie and every time a song like "Ashes to Ashes" was announced, one of them would erupt into their own Bowie story of that song - when they first heard it, where they first bought it, the usual uber-fan one upping type nonsense.

The rest of the band returned and "Suffragette City" got dancers on the floor and the sweet scent of burning orange peel in the air as the bartender made a cocktail that required burnt orange.

Next to me, two guys wanted to chat, but when that song ended, the one interrupted, "Make a note, they killed it on that song!"

So far as I could tell, they killed it on all the songs. Clearly, they've played a lot of shows since I last saw them ten months ago when the devastatingly dashing David Bowie was still among us.

Walking out to leave, I got as far as the front door where smokers congregated when I ran into everyone's favorite Civil War historian/nerd and wound up in a three-way conversation with the manager of the restaurant at the center of the shit storm right now, when she just happened to walk up.

Life presents itself, people do thoughtless and stupid things and we all - the entire city - would be wise to use such openings to start better conversations about the big things that matter.

As long as we've got all these long, dark evenings ahead, we may as well put them to good use. Maybe by the time we get our daylight back, this city's house will be in order.

Leave it to Richmond to use the crazy-ass route to get there.


  1. You're a very entertaining talented writer. I enjoyed your piece!

  2. Thanks very much for that! I hope you'll read again soon.