Thursday, March 5, 2015

Dirty Dozen

There's a lot to be said for getting a second chance.

Spurring that thought was the On the Air Radio Players' delightful "Here Comes Mr. Jordan," a live radio performance using the script of the original Lux Radio Theater production, complete with hilarious live commercials for Cock-a-doodle-do Stew ("For you or for two, in a can of blue").

When a boxer is mistakenly taken to heaven before he was supposed to die, he's unwilling to accept his fate (aren't we all sometimes?). Heaven's Mr. Jordan takes him back to earth to find a suitable body in which to finish out his lifespan.

Of course that's when he meets a woman he can't resist and falls in love.

Problems arise when he's forced to abandon that body because it's murdered and find another. Mr. Jordan assures him that he'll still be himself, Joe the boxer, no matter what body he's using and that his love will be able to "recognize" him.

Despite the elements of fantasy (ghosts walking through walls) and broad comedy (intentionally bad sax playing), the play was really very romantic, a testament to love and attraction being so much more than just a physical thing.

And because it was a live radio play, we got to see all the sound effects being made - newspapers rustled, doors slammed, shoes walking, smacking kisses - along with a keyboard and sax player. Favorite effect: the guy doing the announcing for the big fight projected his voice next to a coffee can for the appropriate '40s-sounding reverb.

Taken right from the current headlines was the line, "Have the twins gotten over the measles yet?" Back when people had no choice about kids getting it.

We romantics in the audience were gratified when Joe and Betty met again after he'd assumed another body and both immediately felt a spark of something despite it being their "first" meeting. Love triumphs.

But it also begs the question: would you really be able to sense someone you love if they were completely unrecognizable? I don't know, although I'd like to think I would.

Since I see zero chance of being whisked off to heaven early (or at all), it's probably not my concern.

From the far reaches of the county, it was back into the heart of the city for music and a celebration of sorts. Balliceaux was hosting Stelth Ulvang, the multi-instrumentalist from the Lumineers, playing a one-off show with his band tonight.

Waiting at the front bar for my date, the bartender and I debated the pronunciation of Stelth's name and what kind of music he played. She'd heard the sound check and guessed folk, but the songs I'd listened to online were broader than that, infused with more of a chamber pop sound.

In either case, we were both looking forward to it.

Once I had company, we began with "J" Brut Cuvee and a toast to a Tuesday night a dozen years ago and the unlikelihood of second chances.

When the sound of music began, we moved to the back room for the opener, a guy with braids and a trucker's hat who, as it turned out, was also the guitarist from Stelth's band. His songs were sad and his guitar chimed beautifully for an enjoyable short set (he described his set list as a "pick your own adventure" of sad and less sad options).

When he finished, we moved on to "J" Brut Rose while talking to the guy seated next to us who works at the National about the nature of music fans and how much they drink (country music fans imbibe the most).

Stelth came out barefoot and playing an acoustic guitar alone before being joined by his band mates on electric bass (and sometimes upright bass), drums (sometimes using mallets or playing with sticks on the side of drums) and the guitarist with the terrific-sounding guitar.

He was an engaging performer, entreating the audience to move closer (we happily moved our chairs to the front row) and even standing on empty chairs to lean into the room for effect.

Mentioning how much he liked playing small rooms (understandably given the size of the venues the Lumineers play), he observed, "The Lumineers played here three years ago and I think there are more people here tonight than there was that night."

Maybe Richmond has more Stelth Ulvang fans than Lumineers fans.

Eventually trading his acoustic guitar for a handsome accordion, they began playing through the songs listed on a weathered-looking red-framed chalkboard Stelth had propped up on the stage, "Where I can see it but my band can't."

At one point, he polled the audience as to whether he should play more accordion or move to the piano. Several people called out for accordion but I was right up front and called for piano, whereupon he pointed at me, and said, "The lady wants piano," and moved behind it.

It pays to tell some guys what you want.

Part of my motivation in asking was that he hadn't played it yet despite most of the songs I'd heard online being piano-based. The only downside was that then he couldn't scamper around the room as he sang his wordy and literate songs, such as the lively "Carl Sagan."

It was at this point that he finally tossed his knit cap to the floor and before long, his cardigan, no doubt plenty warm after so much music-making and cavorting.

Considering 24 hours ago I'd had no clue who Stelth Ulvang was, I can honestly say I was disappointed when his brief set ended. Once again, Richmond had gotten lucky scoring a talented band on an off night.

Luckily, it was still early enough to continue the celebration, so we moseyed back to the front bar for ruminations on Charleston, enlightened hospitality and, yes, being unwilling to accept your fate.

Sometimes you need a second chance because you weren't quite ready for the first. Sometimes you just need a bowl of Cock-a-doodle-do stew and spoons for two.

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