Tuesday, January 24, 2017

It's a Beautiful Night in the Neighborhood

We pause now for a barely veiled tribute to our sponsor, Jackson Ward. Best Monday night 'hood ever.

Because, unless you have a recording studio/art gallery that does candle-lit micro-shows for 30 or fewer music lovers within a three-block walk - the Tiny Bar series at Black Iris - on the deadest night of the week, I seriously doubt you've got more going on where you live.

Swedish musician/Baltimore transplant Hanna Olivegreen was the draw on a night where fog and drizzle were battling it out for dominance, but my mod-looking new (old) raincoat was up to the challenge. Running into a friend, I complimented him on his leaner frame and he volleyed back with, "You're looking pretty fly, by the way."

Behold the power of a thrift store find and someone who appreciates that '60s Carnaby Street look.

Since the show hadn't begun, I paused to check out the art show up front, a collection of small works by various artists, full of bright colors and a lightness completely unlike Black Iris' usual aesthetic. More like 1708 Gallery next door, which, it turned out, is whose show it actually was, part of an upcoming fundraiser.

"No, these are definitely not my colors," laughed the gallerist when I asked about the uncharacteristic art on his walls. "Look, I'm even keeping the lights lower to offset the color," he said, turning the lights up to make his point.

One that attracted me that he'd have ignored was "Hostage," an image of a green potted cactus atop a pink cardboard box with a towering microphone pointed ominously at the poor, prickly thing and a massive recording device in the background, all set against sunny orange and white stripes.

Succulent as hostage, it was hilarious and ridiculously colorful at the same time.

The other piece that demanded my attention could've been a woodcut or a drawing and showed a monochromatic image of a large stylized bush, some geese and two multi-cultural looking people, both in elaborately multi-patterned coats, their faces reminiscent of Renaissance illustrations.

Its gradations of black would have been soothing to the gallerist's eye, but it was the modern interpretation of a classic construct that sucked me in.

Back at the tiny bar, I said hello to the few people I knew and settled in next to the vintage store owner across the street. She asked if I'd heard Hanna's voice and assured me I was going to be impressed when I did. I was already admiring the singer's long dirty blond braid and groovy red Indian-style shirt. So '70s.

Marveling at what we were about to see on a soggy Monday after the most depressing inauguration on record (really, he has to bring in "clappers" to assure a scripted response to his rantings?), I said I couldn't imagine anyone had anything more compelling to do in Richmond tonight than this show.

"Right?" she asked rhetorically. "Hello, McFly?"

Performing as HOW, Hanna and her Baltimore band - singer Iris, cellist Zack and drummer Mike - begin with the wooziest of piano sounds, instantly putting me in mind of Baltimore's Beach House and on board immediately.

From there, they proceed to take us deep into an atmosphere of experimental, world music and lounge, with the two women harmonizing like angels while trance-like rhythms and mad percussion pulled the audience along.

There was a break before the second set which allowed time for me to hear about a mutual friend and former bachelor extraordinaire who decided to ask his sweetie to move in by giving her a vintage ring, but he didn't have a box. That's how he showed up at my friend's store in search of the best possible ring box, which had to be chosen carefully because he was going to have to see it every day if she said yes.

We agreed this showed a level of foresight and consideration not often exhibited by his people.

People came and went before the second set, which registered as more neo-'70s pop/tribal/improvisation, some songs so raucous Ines was stamping her foot and playing tambourine, Mike was hitting every surface in sight while Zack was plucking the cello for all it was worth, his bow ignored.

Sucking in the room's energy, re-imagining it and continuously changing directions, the sound was irresistible.

It was the equivalent of being seduced and washed clean, all in a candlelit room over an hour and a half.

So I'm quite sure that hearing a killer band perform on a slow night alone would show up your neighborhood, but it was also the 3-year anniversary party for the Rogue Gentlemen, a few blocks away and also in J-Ward.

Selfishly since I'm going on 11 years here, I'm all for any business that puts down roots and stays.

Adding to the incentive to congratulate a neighbor business was the stupidly delicious Mean Bird fried chicken ("With sliced cucumber vinaigrette slices to make you feel better about yourself," I was assured), upbeat rap and slow jams thanks to Deejay Krispy Leek and a drink that delivered exactly what I asked for: complex and sassy. The sage leaf was pure bonus.

I congratulated the owner on his longevity and recent marriage and he hinted at plans in the works. Word is the big lot diagonally across is about to be developed with retail, a quantum leap from just three years ago when Jackson Street was considered the far reaches of the neighborhood. Yet they proved that wrong.

But although it works here, we agreed there would be no way of conveying the J-Ward vibe of Rogue Gentlemen to any other area. A new concept would be in order.

The place was packed with some celebratory types in birthday hats, a table full of bespectacled brunette nerd types (pre-med, dental?) who gave off a socially awkward vibe but are no doubt brilliant and clusters of beards licking chicken-greased fingers and sucking back cocktails.

Wiping my own greasy fingers, I can assure you it most definitely did not feel like just another wet Monday evening in a fascist state. The benefits of a lively, walkable neighborhood, no matter the night, can not be overstated.

Take me away, Jackson Ward, because you really are the best. All I can do is try to look fly enjoying it. Failing that, there's always complex and sassy.

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