Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Come See About Me

One way or another, I'm living a song.

Mac and I walked this morning, the first time since Folk Fest and though the river is still high, we were able to get on the pipeline. It apparently made Mac so happy (frisky?) that she decided to vault the log that's been laying across the pipeline for months now.

I was just glad to be walking after missing so many daily constitutionals lately. Well, that or less nervy. Or agile.

After so much bad pizza lately in service of my hired mouth, when the work day was over, I headed directly to Riverside Drive for the most scenic route I know to stellar pizza. Add in having to wait on Forest Hill Avenue for a freight train to pass and I couldn't have asked for a more pleasant change of scenery.

At the counter of Giustino's Pizza, I joined two women having wine and pizza while discussing life and art. When the server overheard one say she was a fourth grade teacher, she asked her what she taught, resulting in a response of the expected subjects: science, social studies, math. When the server asked if she taught art, the woman looked sad. "No, but maybe if I'd gone that route and taught art, I'd be happier now. Everyone loves going to art class."

Do they? What if she had gone that route and was still miserable at 27 or 28, whatever age she was? I wonder what her solution would be then?

As I sat there eating my Bianca pizza, listening to a soundtrack of old favorite bands like Local Natives and Arcade Fire, a guy sat down at the counter and smiled hello. A male customer comfortably clad in sweats and ball cap came in to pick up his pie and - my guess? - head directly to his couch. A woman arrived to to buy a $50 gift certificate and all I could think was what a fabulous present that would be.

Happy birthday, here's the equivalent of 4 or 5 Giustino pizzas. Score.

After ditching the wheels, I meandered over to Black Iris Gallery, getting stuck behind a slow walker. Not wanting to be rude, I crossed the street at the nearest corner so I could go at my own pace. Mid-block, he crossed, too. Looks like we had the same idea, I said. Smiling, he agreed.

At least now I was in front.

When I got to Black Iris, I had time to check out the Diane Clement ("The Old Artist with the Dragon Tattoo") show of action paintings - think Jackson Pollak - primarily done outdoors and on raw canvas.

From the very first piece, a large format, unframed canvas of blues, white, arcs of black and red dots that could have either been a brilliant July sky at the river seen through trees or a view approaching a glacier with ice floes all around. And yet it was abstract.

Nearby hung a painting that was as different as could be. Mostly white over washes of blue near the top and blue-green near the bottom, it had small rectangles of mauve, rust and gold scattered around. The artist's words, "As much as I love heavy paint and texture, weightless layers give the elements flight and space."

What she said.

"Fitful and I Like It" was a smaller, darker action painting perfectly described in its title. And then, looking at it, it hit me: Diane Clement is as much a storyteller as a painter Each painting was a story.

From "My Homage to ADD"  to her commentary about a tangle of colors and drips, "I see ships' masts under predawn" to "The Bright Side of the Dark Side," this artist found meaning in whatever her gestures wrought. Never mind all the additional interpretations by anyone who saw them, so we're talking endless possibilities in non-representational art.

I'd come for music and been given an amuse bouche of art. Am I lucky or what?

When I finally made it to the bar, a small wood-paneled room in the back where I've seen dozens of shows, I found a ridiculously small crowd. One of the Black Iris guys asked my opinion of waiting for more people to arrive (I had all night, although, shhh, in my heart of hearts, I don't believe in punishing the punctual) as a few people trickled in.

Overhead, the sound system was pumping out the unlikeliest of mixes with the Supremes' "Come See About Me," Roberta Flack's "Killing Me Softly" and, be still my heart, the Stylistics' "Stone in Love with You."

Who makes such a mix? And may I shake your hand?

At the bar, one of the band members was talking to a local about what a find Black Iris is. To explain, he compared it to a few bars he favors just north of the Nashville city limits. "So they're not on Air BnB or Uber or Trip Advisor's radar, which is good because you don't want them to blow up or they won't be fun anymore," he said. "You only know about them if you live there or someone tells you."

A small group was mingling nearby and the subject of where everyone was from came up. A tall brunette turned to me to include me in the question and before long we were talking about how D.C. has changed, especially the U Street corridor and around the 9:30 Club. That led us to how you hold on to your city - her Nashville, my Richmond - even as it's changing around you and becoming suddenly cool by outsiders' standards.

Engrossed as I can get in conversation, I shouldn't have been surprised when, after we'd covered several topics, she introduced herself as Chandra, coincidentally, one of the Watson Twins whom I'd come to see. When her sister Leigh appeared in matching snakeskin ankle boots, I knew it was show time.

The Watson Twins were only in my neighborhood tonight because they're on tour with Pokey Lafarge and Pokey's not playing the next two nights. "And we wanted to play music!" Leigh said.

I'm not going to claim I knew a lot of the Watson Twins' music, although certainly I heard plenty of that album "Rabbit Fur Coat" that they did with Jenny Lewis back in 2006. But I do know that no one harmonizes like family and an awful lot of people have used them to sing back-up on their records because of the beauty of their voices blended.

That was enough for me.

And since there were barely a dozen of us, chairs magically appeared in the dim, candlelit room with the faux spiderwebs stretching from wall to chandelier to bar and we all sat down to what felt like a private show, though it was open to the public. Chandra played acoustic guitar, Leigh did the snapping, clapping and tambourine playing and they'd brought along Brad (the guy espousing North Nashville) to handle electric guitar duties beautifully.

Leigh gave the audience their RVA story first. Growing up in Louisville, they'd become fans of Richmond punk band the Veil and saw them every time they came through town. Along the way, they imagined Richmond as this epic punk town, while their first visit proved it was just a great town with a good vibe.

Their new album "Duo," out last week and the first of their eight albums to be written together, provided much of tonight's set list, including the first song "Hustle and Shake." They said it was autobiographical about the difficulties of the music business but it was the sound of their voices harmonizing that took the breath of listeners and caused a delay in applause as we sat there with jaws dropped.

After doing "Playing Hearts," they told a story of their 92-year old grandma listening to the lyric, "I want it all, I want it now," and commenting to them, "I know how you feel!" as only a nonagenarian could. For "Crybaby," they took mics in hand and swung and danced in time as they sang the heartbreak lyrics.

A highlight was their cover of the Cure's "Just Like Heaven," which had been used in a sex scene in a bathtub in a vampire film, spurring hopes that it would be their big breakthrough. But the song required a harmonica and when Chandra went to find hers and couldn't, Leigh offered hers.

Looking right at the audience, Chandra announced, "The only thing we don't share is harmonicas and men." Boom.

The twins were hugely appreciative of the people who'd come out  on a Monday night, saying, "When we sell out the National, don't worry about buying a ticket because every one of you is getting a VIP ticket on us!" Sounds good to me.

To introduce "Rolling Thunder," they explained - because it was always they, never just one talking, each finishing the other's thoughts...or correcting her - that it was about when your town starts to be taken over by developers and corporations and little local businesses you've loved go away so new places can take their place. About the 21st century evolution of urban life.

"We have 26 cranes in Nashville at any given time," Leigh observed, noting that a town isn't defined by that. "People are the authenticity of a town."

All I know is, sitting in candlelight at Black Iris listening to those two angelic voices after scarfing one of Giustino's pies felt pretty damn authentic. And given that it's Richmond, the pipeline and freight train didn't hurt, either.

Let the thunder roll.

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