Saturday, February 23, 2019

Serious as You Wanna Be

As that sage PJ put it, it's all about choices.

Yesterday was a marathon of writing, setting appointments and sending off inquiries that lasted well into evening. What made it tolerable was knowing that even though I was working past 8:00, I could still make a stellar-sounding show at Gallery 5.

If I was willing to walk over there in the rain and if I didn't mind the show not finishing until midnight. Honestly, the end time hadn't even occurred to me until I walked in and found PJ, cute husband to my friend Em, looking for some pre-show conversation. Alas, she wasn't there because (see above) she didn't want to stay up until midnight because she was running in the morning.

Did someone say choices?

Sorry as I was not to run into her, PJ and I had plenty to discourse over. He keeps up with the state of the nation and was all kinds of active in Abigail Spanberger's campaign, even going so far as to try to rally VCU graduate students (he works there) to start paying attention and participating in democracy. He traces his own wake-up call to September 11th because as a then-21 year old, it was the first game-changer in his life.

But once an acquaintance neither of us had seen in years showed up with her squeeze, apologizing for not being out at shows anymore, we pivoted to that subject. She was curious if people just go out less once they're in their 30s ("Yes," PJ informed her succinctly) or if finding a partner had slowed things down. Add in that her favorite dance parties no longer happen now that Balliceaux is ancient history and she's become a reluctant homebody.


For a rainy night that could've kept people at home, Gallery 5 had a decent crowd and, even better, a crowd of all ages, always a good indicator of the diversity on a bill. First up were Nathan and Heather from Big No, performing as NaH with keys, guitar and both of them singing.

Theirs was a haunting sound with a set that was very atmospheric and a look to match with Heather's keyboard covered in a black drape with a fish print and the word "Pisces" painted on it. Next to her, a side table held a tiny, beaded lamp, making it feel a bit like we were in a Victorian drawing room.

Or a hippie's apartment circa 1969.

During the break, we grabbed Christina, singer from headliners Yeni Nostalji, so that PJ could take a selfie of the three of us to send to his wife so she'd know we missed her. Our only regret was that she didn't send us one back of her. And no, a meme of Jennifer Aniston waving is not the same.

Next up was D.C.'s Truth is Fire, a band with an Iranian-born Sufi poet wearing an embroidered white duster, beads and a tall, brimless hat for a frontman. PJ had alerted me to their post-punk-meets-world-music vibe and he was spot on, as usual.

But there was no way he could have conveyed the sheer theatricality of the singer, all fluttering hands - sometimes toward the guitar, others toward the heavens - sinuous hips and constant motion. His accessory of choice was a Steven Tyler-worthy scarf he could pull or wrap as he oozed drama and emotion while the foot-tall hat atop his head caused profuse sweating as he gyrated and sang.

At one point, the homebody observed, "I'm not sure if they want us to take them seriously or not. I'm just enjoying it." I give her a couple decades and, if she's smart, that'll be her M.O. in life.

Introducing the next song, the singer said it was called "Impossible Nights," because "we've had a lot of impossible nights since the election." Preach it, brother. The music spoke to me with its post-punk guitar sound with swirling world beats around them and meanwhile, I recognized the kind of music-lovers I'd once seen at a Tulsa Drone show.

Back then I'd labeled them as "older hipsters representing" but now I'm more inclined to point out that at least they're still going out. We're back to that choices thing.

After the whirling dervish of Time is Fire's performance, there seemed to be a vacuum onstage where they'd been. PJ and I were deep in a discussion of the local scene and how it had somehow been 5 years since the last Colloquial Orchestra show, which seems impossible but isn't. We counted the years since first meeting (I bought one of his photographs from him outside on a First Friday) and we've already got over a dozen years of seeing each other at music shows, art shows, in-store performances and who knows what else. Crazy.

I've known Christina of Yeni Nostalji probably ten years beginning when she walked up to me at a show at Sprout (RIP) and asked, "Who are you? I see you at shows all the time." We've been friends ever since, meeting for food, art or music (often with Em), so since I know that side of her - the dishing about life and love part - I'm fascinated every time I see her perform.

The charmingly goofy, soft-voiced woman I know is replaced by a musical interpreter who not only transfixes her audience with a voice that evokes other worlds but with the music that's emanating from her hands, body and lovely face. I don't doubt she could charm a snake with that combination.

And don't get me started on wardrobe evolution. We're talking a midriff-baring, tan animal print sweater over fitted tan jeans. Think "Kitten with a Whip 2019." People like PJ and I recall seeing her  play back in the Low Branches days when she couldn't even open her eyes while performing. At all.

Joking, I told PJ that our baby was all grown up. "Grown up? She's got a master's degree!"

Now she banters easily with the crowd, saying things like, "These are songs written in Turkish, in case you were wondering." And that's sort of the magic of it. Almost from the first, the audience was rapt listening to and looking at her, despite not being able to understand a single word she's singing.

That's high praise if any of your audience has short attention spans. Sort of like Sigur Ros and their made-up language.

Toward the end of their set, Christina announced, "We have three more songs" and the guitar player said something low to her. "And that was one of them!" she smiled and shot back. Hilarious.

As reliable as the tides, Yeni Nostalji did a set of songs that made you glad you were there in that room to hear them that night while the rain poured down outside. The funny part was, Christina had admitted earlier that for her, this was a late show because she's usually in bed by 9:30 (same as Em).

Which was just about when this show had begun.

Call me selfish, but her choice was our gain. All I had to do was show up.

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