Friday, December 7, 2018

One Stage, No Gender

Music melts all the separate parts of our bodies together. ~ Anais Nin

I was at Strange Matter in January 2010 before they even had their liquor license, for cryin' out loud.

Fact is, I've seen all kinds of movies there, despite it being a music venue, a lot of them the kind that I couldn't have seen anywhere else.

That first night, it was for "All Tomorrow's Parties," about the music festival curated by other musicians. That was followed by the bike messenger documentary "Pedal" in March that year, then in April, the documentaries "American Hardcore" about that whole scene and "Festival Express" about musicians on tour via train across Canada in 1970.

I not only enjoyed every single movie I saw there, I learned something from each, too.

But it wasn't all music and bikes, because I laughed along to "Raising Arizona" (not for the first time) and that holiday classic, "Santa Conquers the Martians." And it was there that I saw the James Bond parody, "Our Man Flint," for the first time. Add in John Waters' "Polyester" and David Lynch's "Blue Velvet" and "Wild at Heart" and you get some idea of the range that S'Matter showed.

I don't want to brag, but I saw the Monkee's magum opus "Head" there, putting up with the non-stop mindless commentary from the peanut gallery at the bar, people whose parents hadn't even met when "Head" was made.

But of course, it was mostly about the bands I saw there and there were some stellar ones.

I saw Real Estate on a humid, sweltering night, leaving with my dress as wet as my hair.

Some bands I enjoyed seeing there so much that I saw them again the next time they came back through, like Strand of Oaks, Wild Nothing, Speedy Ortiz. Sometimes once isn't enough.

Music fan that I am, I saw some bands simply because I had a free night and knew of the band, like the Man Man show in 2014.

Other times, it was a fellow music lover's recommendation, online or in person, that got me there, like with Kane Strang, Pylon Reenactment Society, Taco Cat and David Bazan of Pedro the Lion.

I went for local boy-made-good Matt White, but also because he was playing with the Rosebuds' Howard Ivans and I'm a big Rosebuds fan. When I needed a neo-'80s fix, I went to see Cold Cave and Drab Majesty and wallowed in the reverb. For pure indie pop, I couldn't resist the Love Language, NOLA's Generationals and dancing to Beach Fossils before everyone knew who they were.

For an early show by Kurt Vile, I stood on the back of a banquette in a room so hot and sticky that I feared I might pass out (I didn't). Once, for an Italian fix, I went to see Sultans, a group of passionate Italians thrilled to be touring the U.S. and meeting American girls.

Over the years, I went to some of their annual shows, like the yearly Food Fights where groups of restaurant staffers formed a band for a night and competed against each other to win the audience's approval. A couple of Halloweens, I attended the Night of the Living Dead bands show, an extravaganza of cover bands of bands with at least one deceased member.

And don't get me started on all the local bands I've seen there over the years because there have been too many to recount.

I've been to many a sold out show where my foresight in snagging a ticket ensured I got in while I knew many people who didn't, but I've also been to shows where I was one of 20 people the band was playing to and I felt like Richmond was representing poorly.

In almost every case, I walked to S'Matter, but on the one occasion I didn't (I had uncharacteristically driven there because my hired mouth and I had come from the West End), I came out at 1:45 a.m. to find my car had been towed. Luckily, I also ran into a musician friend who lives in J-Ward and we walked home together, not because walking alone was an issue - I'd done it scores of times - but because I needed someone to listen to me beat myself up about my stupidity.

And now the news has come that Strange Matter is closing, so they're doing a series of farewell shows. There was no way I wasn't going to one to say goodbye to a place that has been a constant in my musical and film life since the day it opened.

Walking in, the doorman hugged the couple in front of me because tonight was their fourth night coming in for a farewell show. I paid my money, got a wristband and saved my hugs for friends.

Almost at once, I got a hug from the woman I'd met at this very venue, back during what she called Janet-palooza, when she was celebrating her fortieth birthday by going to a show every night for a month.

Seeing her there tonight brought things full circle.

Next was the trumpet player who was playing in one of tonight's bands, then the Chucks-wearing friend who used to complain that going out required too much work. Even he had apparently realized that sometimes you just have to make the effort. The writer who lived in my apartment before I did was there and we talked about all the great films he'd screened as part of RVA Movie Club, many of which I'd been there for. Later I got a greeting from the music teacher and the volunteer coordinator.

All the cool kids were out tonight.

When I spoke to the DJ whom I'd seen at the Byrd for "La Dolce Vita," then at the Hof for the debut of Trey Pollard's "Antiphones" album and again tonight, it was by complimenting him on his range.

Technically, I suppose he could say the same of me.

DJing between band sets was the owner of my local record store where I had first heard tonight's headliner, the Ar-kaics, back in 2013. My, how time flies. As always, he looked happy to be spinning 45s for the crowd in between enjoying the show.

Also on the bill were Weird Tears, who when they hailed from Philly considered S'Matter one of their favorite venues, the nine-piece Piranha-Rama (three horns, two back-up singers), Christi with their pastiche of girl group and hardcore and, finally, the garage band sounding Ar-kaics.

Appropriately sadcore song title considering the reason for tonight's show? Weird Tears' second song, "I Don't Deserve to Be Happy Tonight."

Before their set, I'd chatted with the lead singer of Piranha-Rama, giving her props for her cute red coat with a fake fur collar. She admitted she'd found it at For the Love of Jesus Thrift on southside and had debated long and hard about spending $14 on the coat before sucking it up and forking over the money.

Years later, she realizes it was a brilliant purchase.

Besides, what could I say, standing there in a thrift store wool dress, military-style  jacket and pleather-collared sweater, none of which cost more than $4?

It's an additional shame that S'Matter is closing since they'd updated the bathrooms to be unisex with a sign on the former men's room reading, "This bathroom has one stall and no gender." It also had no line, unlike the one that read, "This bathroom has two stalls and no gender," so guess which one I used?

You got it, the one with the two urinals.

In what I can only consider the most fitting tribute to S'Matter, we were barely into the second band's set when I realized how ungodly warm it was in there and began shedding layers. Janet had already removed her jacket and taken it outside to stow away under her scooter seat. All around me, guys were doffing their knit skull caps and wiping sweat off their heads.

Being a regular at S'Matter teaches you quickly that their temperature regulatory system is non-existent and it will be hot and miserable in there once the bands start playing, whether it is August or December. The only difference is that it's not humid inside during the winter months.

Still, that's part of its charm. You don't go to a venue like S'Matter expecting all the comforts of home, you go to hear music played from a stage a few feet from your face. And maybe to dance, which I began doing from the first song Weird Tears played.

But it wasn't all gloom and doom tonight because just today, a couple of local musicians started a Go Fund Me page to try to raise enough money to take over the venue. My writer friend said that they'd already raised $4K this afternoon, with a goal of $150K, in hopes they can keep it from falling into the hands of VCU and further gentrifying that block.

Godspeed, guys, I hope you pull it off.

Because, after all, that building has been a music venue since before I came to Richmond in 1986. I know I went to it when it was the Nancy Raygun, but even before then, it was Twisters and Back Door, I've been told.

What's a city without a small, gritty venue like Strange Matter? Especially one I can walk to. Too soon? Too selfish? The way I see it, music fans deserve to be happy on any given night.

Most importantly, Richmond needs a place where our separate body parts can melt together.

Or maybe that's just me.

No comments:

Post a Comment