Thursday, August 24, 2017

Honeysuckle, Bittersweet

Bands or men, frequency doesn't have to equate with boredom.

As many times as I've seen the world music duo Lobo Marino - and that's a fair number over a period spanning 2010 to now - it's always different. They're changing, their music changes and the venue changes.

When I saw they were playing at Tin Pan in a listening room setting tonight, driving to suburban hell Henrico aside, I couldn't think of a single reason not to be there. And you can be sure that when my date considered using his GPS, I offered up my direction services instead.

On arrival, he mentioned that the benefit of using me over A.I. is that my directions include stories. I'd told him I'd brought him via Patterson Avenue because its gently rolling hills feel like something that's been traversed on horses (or in carriages) for centuries.

You don't get that kind of color from Siri.

Approaching the Tin Pan, we saw the evening's stars on a low brick wall, her head in his lap. They were sharing a moment in the post-rain cool evening air, without a care for the fact that they went onstage in 45 minutes.

Jameson and Laney aren't just talented musical partners, they're the equivalent of a couple comedy act of differing personalities who play off each other effortlessly on and off stage. The unicorn head clock made of a slab of lacquered wood that they gave me for my birthday 8 years ago is a fitting metaphor for their sunny can-do attitudes.

My kind of people, in other words.

We chatted them up outside, listening as Laney talked about the pipeline activism with which they're so involved. They'd landed at the Tin Pan in an effort to treat Richmond more like they treat the other cities on tour: by trying a variety of venues to pull different crowds. It made perfect sense.

They joined us at our table inside for more banter while we ordered dinner of hummus with everything bagel sprinkles, pita and veggies and a kale salad with Gorgonzola, nuts and chicken.

After Jameson gave me a hard time about something, he reminded me that our decade of friendship allows that privilege.

"Remember that show at Gallery 5 where you asked Nathaniel and I why two musicians at a show were talking while a band played?" he asked, chuckling. "But we hadn't seen each other in so long! You were right, we should've gone outside to talk."

Smart men learn quickly.

Then they went onstage to knock the socks off the audience, many of whom seemed never to have seen them before.

"If you have any questions during the show, just raise your hand and ask," they told the undoubtedly surprised room. Who doesn't like a transparent band?

They began by explaining about the band's name and how they'd first seen  the large sea lions known as lobo marino while living in South America, where they got away with anything they wanted, including holding up traffic.

Jameson recalled that they used to tell themselves that the animals were extraterrestrials who craned their necks upward in that distinctive way because they were awaiting the arrival of the mothership.

Then they played, which had to have been a revelation for anyone in the room who'd never seen a band that plays banjo, harmonium, drums with feet, mallets and sticks, guitar, bells around the ankles, mouth harp and brass jar (as a poor man's substitute for a similar instrument they couldn't afford).

And that's not even mentioning the litany of animal sounds Jameson brings to the mix.

Besides the sheer pleasure of a true listening room environment, the quieter room meant that the duo pulled out all kinds of early and acoustic material they no longer play out. I heard stuff I hadn't heard in years.

When Jameson said they were going to play the first song they ever wrote together, Laney was quick to correct him. "I didn't write it!" But that wasn't the point and "Animal Hands" is as much a delight to hear the 15th time as the first.

Before a song from the album recorded upstairs at Gallery 5, Jameson gave me a shout-out about having been there for the recording. "Her name is in the liner notes," he shares and I beam.

After he explains that he'd been the band's original lead singer, he said that once Laney found her voice, the job was hers and with good reason.

She challenged him to play a song that showed when he'd found his voice and he pulled out his mouth harp, an instrument he'd learned to play on a pilgrimage in Spain ("After Laney left me to go home") and Portugal.

"Cole, make us sound schwampy," Jameson told the sound guy. "That means reverb." And reverb was just what the mouth harp, foot-drummed song needed.

After Jameson tuned the guitar and she apologized about her playing skills, they did "The Loon," which Laney had written on a boat dock in Maine one summer after the sounds of the birds.

Every song had a story and it was a night for sharing all of that - anecdotes, activism, personal stories - in between the music. Back in 2008, I saw Yo la Tengo on tour and they did the same thing, interspersing chatter with music for a more intimate feel.

You know I love me some good conversation.

Before a song inspired by an eastern greeting, they talked about their time in Yogaville. Laney had been distressed when she discovered that men and women slept in separate dormitories and there was no hand-holding allowed. Her displeasure still simmered.

"Pretty sure all of that was on the sheet they gave us," Jameson noted wryly. "Laney didn't read it."

She ignores him and goes on to explain that they managed to sneak away and have sex at the river anyway while there. 'I can't believe you just told them that," Jameson laughed.

Asking for request, they got one but apologized in advance since they hadn't played it in eons. During an extensive instrumental part, Laney leaned in to the mic and said, "Bonus track" in a fake Siri-like voice.

Thankfully, they ended with "Holy River," a song that takes the audience to the church of the Ganges/James River and soars skyward. It's the ultimate closer.

Before the night was over, they'd invited the entire room to their squash roasting party next week and told the crowd that if they needed another dose of Lobo Marino before then, they're playing at Hardywood this weekend.

"But it'll be less talk, more rock at Hardywood," Laney warned us.

Funny, I was attracted to the fact that the audience wasn't allowed to talk and reveled in the fact that the musicians did as much talking as playing.

As my favorite cop would say, I like it. As my Grandma used to say, only boring people get bored.

Not even close.

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