Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Drummers Do It with Rhythm

It was a brave, new world at the Listening Room tonight, one that included drums and amps and bongos, oh, my!

Put another way, there were more musicians on the stage for tonight's performance than in your average three Listening Room shows of yore. With a whopping eighteen musicians playing throughout the evening, that's pure fact, not hyperbole.

And it was all very cool, just very different than business as usual. Even the energy in the room felt different; a friend and I tried to figure it out. Were there more new faces? Is it the bar that makes the crowd so much noisier between sets? Is it just not being in a church basement? We couldn't put our fingers on it.

But the bottom line at the Listening Room is hearing talented musicians play to a respectful and silent audience and nothing about that had changed.

Harrisonburg band David Bayard Richard was a septet with two keyboards, drums, guitar, violin, viola and cello. They were introduced by MC Chris Edwards as "indie pop piano ballad chamber pop" and that's probably as succinct a description as could be made for the band.

They came onstage and lead singer Richard responded with, "That's the first time we've been introduced...ever." We are nothing if not well-mannered at the Listening Room.

They had an interesting sound, alternating a more drum/guitar-heavy sound with a more string-focused one and occasionally all coming together. Richard's growl of a voice was very melodic and enhanced by the two keyboards.

The last song, which featured all seven instruments was beautiful, although the strings were tough to hear over the drums. On an earlier song, my friend had said that there were moments when the strings swelled that she felt close to tears, always part of the pleasure of chamber pop.

Playing next was Anousheh Khalili, she of the sensuous voice and writer of beautiful pop gem songs. Tonight she had a three-piece behind her and it added a whole new dimension to her music.

"I'm playing all new songs," she told the crowd. "So unless you were at my one other show, you haven't heard them." Turning to my seatmate, I told her I had been there. "If anyone had, it would be you," she whispered with a smile.

But as impressive as the new songs had been when she'd played them solo at Ipanema, they were even more so tonight with her band. Guitarist Tyler Crowley was a perfect fit with Anousheh's voice and keyboards, adding texture to her sound and proving that a good thing can sometimes be made even better.

Miramar, another septet, took over from Anousheh (who had used their keyboards to save lugging her own) with guitar/sax, bass, drums, two singer/percussionists and, yes, bongos. And if they were the first bongos at the Listening Room, it was also the first time that boleros were sung.

I've heard Miramar before, so I knew what to expect, but many in the crowd had the unexpected pleasure of songs from Puerto Rico and Greece as well as original material, none of it in English and all of it quite beautiful.

On the one hand, all the bands tonight had a common bond: keyboards, drums, guitars and vocalists; on the other, the musical genres were far-flung: indie, Latin, chamber, dance and pop. Music lovers with wide-ranging tastes, a group that would include me, had many itches scratched this evening.

Except for jazz. But conveniently, Brian Jones was playing at the Camel a few steps away, so once the show ended, I took those steps to scratch one last itch before the night was over.

No matter with whom Jones surrounds himself (tonight it was Parker, Ralston and Kuhl), his masterful playing is always a sight to behold and a treat to hear. And I love watching the young jazz musicians in the audience worship at his altar stage as he plays.

But unlike the Listening Room, there were no bongos. Pity.

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