Wednesday, March 8, 2017

When Toasters Didn't Pop

I don't want to brag, but I pulled tonight out of my ass.

Oh, I had a plan - Mac and I had a plan - involving going to Movieland to finally see "Get Out," the problem being when we walked in at 7, all showings of said film were sold out until 10, a great problem for a theater to have.

We weren't the only people to groan and get out of line when the sold out status was announced, but in the name of due diligence, we briefly checked to see if anything else worth seeing was playing (it wasn't). There, standing on the sidewalk peering into the lobby, that's when I had the brainstorm.

Mac said it was 7:08 and we were on the Boulevard. Calculating the odds and deciding that we could make it to the Cultural Arts Center at Glen Allen by 7:30ish, I hustled her to the car.

At 7:32, we walked into the theater for a live radio show just as the director was teaching the audience how to clap (double time so it sounds like more people) and pointing out the green "applause" light. We'd done it.

A mere 24 minutes earlier, we'd been disappointed and without plans and here we were sitting back to watch and listen as the On the Air Radio Players cast took on "The Day the Earth Stood Still," complete with commercials for Lux Soap throughout and electric guitar accompaniment.

It was an especially satisfying play setting for me because it took place in Washington, D.C. (a woman muses, "There's nothing strange about Washington"). The space alien has taken a room at 1615 M Street, N.W. (6 blocks from where I lived) with forays to Arlington Cemetery and the Lincoln Memorial.

When the spacecraft lands on earth with a humanoid-looking spaceman and a robot on board, their mission is to warn the earth people how not to destroy their planet (say, that sounds like a timely message), so the spaceman asks for all the world's leaders to be gathered to hear his warning.

He wants to try words first before resorting lastly to "violent action," which, when asked to define, he describes as "leveling Manhattan." There's a bit of uncomfortable foreshadowing.

But he's told that it isn't feasible to gather world leaders to talk "in lieu of the suspicions and tensions in our world today" (and this was written in 1954), which puzzles him because the population of his planet has learned to live without stupidity ("Don't give up on any freedoms except the right to act irresponsibly").

Of all the unlikely outcomes, we'd wound up at a 60+ year old radio play with a lot of uncanny resemblances to present day. And never mind that we'd done it at the last possible moment.

After Mac dropped me at home, I walked over to Strange Matter in the warm night air for music, the streets uncharacteristically unpopulated because VCU is on spring break.

Not so Strange Matter where I immediately had company from the the scooter queen, another rabid music fan who wasn't about to miss seeing New Zealand's Kane Strang on a Tuesday night. Before long, a couple of other music enthusiasts I know showed up.

Last time I'd seen her had been at Laura Lee's and she'd been severely hungover and in desperate need of a cheeseburger. Tonight we discussed how every element of a cheeseburger - grease, meat, bun, fat, cheese  - is designed to address every aspect of the aftereffects of over-indulgence, note for note. The science of drinking, so to speak.

Opening was Opin, the band that formed from the ashes of longtime local shoegaze faves White Laces' demise and a band clearly striving to be as different from rock guitar-focused as possible.

At one point, I leaned over to my friend and whispered that I was hearing an '80s song I couldn't quite recall the name of. Which was fine by me, since I'd liked that sound the first time around.

"Yea, it's like Wild Nothing meets '80s movie soundtrack," she laughed. "Keys with a side of keys." That was the big difference: how keyboard-based the songs were and how limited and restrained singer Landis' guitar parts were, so very different (yet appealing) from White Laces.

And, yet, on the very last song, there was an extended guitar part that allowed Landis to shred to his heart's content before giving way to the knobs, synths and keyboards that have supplanted its starring role.

"Oh, I forgot to tell you," Landis said near the end of their set. "We're Opin and this is our second show." Like any project he's involved in, you'd never know they weren't rehearsed to the nth degree. All I know is, I'll be back for more Opin.

Between sets, I met a guy who was a huge fan of the next band, Young Scum, and although I told him I'd seen them before, he proceeded to share how wonderful they were with me.  Said he hears the Smiths in their sound but was particularly focused on how strange it is that the bass player stands front and center onstage while the singer/guitarist stands to the right.

But, of course, the real charm of Young Scum is their tender age. In fact, a WRIR woman friend commented that the band is so cute she thinks they should all line up across the front of the stage to play, the better for us to admire their, ahem, youth. "Even the drummer!" she insisted.

I don't know about all that. As long as they keep the jangley guitars and full-on power pop sound, I'm good. It's a bit like Real Estate's dueling guitar sound with low-key front man Chris delivering musical observations while not breaking a sweat.

"It's been fun. It's been good," Chris said before the last song. "It's been short." Some things aren't meant to last, my young friend.

For the New Zealanders (Dunedin, actually), I moved closer to the stage with a small gaggle of friends, the better to take in the main reason all of us were there.

Looking like New Wave-meets-Harry Potter, Kane also took up an odd positioning, standing to the far left of the stage and facing his bandmates rather than the audience. The entire band couldn't have been much older than Young Scum (if they were at all) but their music was far more indie idiosyncratic.

Early on in their set, Kane proved he, like so many millennials, is in love with the analog world, as demonstrated when he began repeating a lyric phrase 5 or 6 times, sounding for all the world like a record skipping. I've heard other bands (say, Tame Impala) do the same and I'm always struck by how they're fascinated by recreating glitches.

For that matter, I heard lots of reverb-soaked Interpol bass and guitar lines in the band's song, not a complaint since I was a huge fan of the source material, too. Because I knew that the album they're touring behind was essentially a bedroom project of Kane's (hello Wild Nothing, hi, Tame Impala), I also got a sense that his bandmates (all lean as jaguars) were still learning their parts.

"He looks 20 when he's talking," the scooter queen observed. "But 40 when he's singing." He also showed his enthusiasm for performance by standing on tip-toe to sing, as if reaching toward the crowd to deliver the music.

Despite little between song banter or outward charisma, there was no doubt that Kane was having a ball sharing his offbeat songs with a wider audience. Like the two bands that preceded his, the music set a distinctive vibe - driving, but chill and always with something to convey - that carried the crowd along happily.

Before the next to last song, he gestured vaguely and said, "Oh, I forgot. I'm Kane and this is my band."

Duh. The kiwis were the reason we were all there on a Tuesday night. And except for the trek to Glen Allen first, I didn't have to go out in the wops to enjoy it.

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