Thursday, March 7, 2019

The Last Thing on My Mind

Everyone's jumping on the ten-year challenge.

First there were the photos on Facebook and just today, I heard a radio program where they'd play an older song from a band and then one from ten years later. Let's just say it's a long way from "Creep" to "Burn the Witch," but it does prove a point.

Time marches on and it's kinder to some than others.

Without meaning to, tonight was sort of like that for me, except eight years. Back in 2011, I'd spent a weekend in D.C. alone, mainly to see the Joy Formidable at the Black Cat (although the offal happy hour at Bar Pilar was pretty stellar, too). When they played the National in 2013, I had no excuse not to go 3/4 of a mile to see them again.

I remember that the biggest surprise then was that they included some acoustic songs, which was a far cry from their effects-laden first tour.

Now here I was tonight, headed to Capital Ale House to see them in the smallest room yet. And yes, I was the second person to arrive, right behind a guy who immediately humble-bragged that he'd already seen the band before. Last fall.

Don't make me laugh, son. He was down from D.C. and had planned to come to the show with his Richmond buddy, who'd called in sick so he came alone. The door guy apparently mistook me for his companion, wrist-banded me and sent me through the door without ever asking if I had bought a ticket.

If I'd known, I wouldn't have and saved the money.

Once inside, I staked out real estate on the banquette, fully intending to sit on the ledge behind it once the music started. This wasn't my first Cap Ale rodeo. In the meantime, I amused myself with the  rotating couples who sat down on the banquette next to me.

Good thing, too, or I'd never have met a woman whose first concert was Vanilla Ice. Even better, she wore harem pants to that show. That's how you win the first concert lottery.

There was the impossibly young-looking woman (VCU class of 2017) who, when I asked, admitted that while she'd seen the Joy Formidable at the National, too, she'd been so far gone ("I was young and stupid then") that she had no memory of it at all. Tonight was her chance at a make up.

There was the guy who'd seen them at the 9:30 Club but never knew they'd played the National. Then there was the guy who had all four of their albums, he said, but had never seen them and had brought his partner (a physician who has to get up at 5 a.m.) along, despite her lack of interest.

"Now he owes me," she deadpanned.

Sometimes I had to resort to eavesdropping, like when the beard nearest me told his companion, "I've been in a lot of depressing situations," before sharing the worst: finding himself in a New Jersey hotel bar at 3:00 on a Saturday afternoon.

I had to give it to him, that's right up there as far as depressing moments go.

From where I sat, it was a pastiche of a crowd, various ages and with a lot of people from beyond the city. I know I talked to couples from Midlothian, Henrico and the West End. All were proud to be out but worried about the lateness of a weekday show. I assured them all that Cap Ale shows top out at around 10:30, although they seemed to think that was still awfully late.

So maybe it wasn't my crowd.

Part of the reason I'd gone - besides to see how the band held up after 8 years - was to see Positive No open for them. The energetic band with the charismatic front woman (in the cutest vintage-style dress) and wailing guitar grabbed the crowd's attention almost at once, always a good thing when it's a local band.

When a couple came in and sat down by me just after Positive No finished, they asked if they'd missed anything good. Actually, you did. I have low tolerance for people who go to shows and opt out of the opener because they haven't heard of them.

How do you learn about new music that way, kids?

When the Joy Formidable came out, my first reaction was how much more polished lead singer Ritzy (full disclosure, her real name is Rhiannon and how Welsh witch is that?) looked with her sleek blond bob and print dress.

Ah, but who among us hasn't changed in 8 years?

And because this is Virginia, midway through the first song, some idiot yelled out, "I love you, Ritzy!" and embarrassed everyone else in the room.

She was only a few songs into the set list when the bassist began messing with her hair. "Stop, I'm really proud I've kept my headband on this long," she said, grabbing at it. "It's usually off by the second song and this is, what, the third or fourth?"

What she referred to as an evil fog machine in Berlin had left her with a raspy voice she was treating with a hot toddy, although she'd been told that the best treatment was swallowing a bottle of olive oil.

"Not bloody likely," she said in her charming Welsh way, which included a lot of f*ckings and f*cks. Polling the crowd to see who'd been to Wales, she asked one raised hand where he'd been. When he answered Swansea, she said they'd recently been there for a show. During the acoustic part of the set, a group of women in the center had continued talking loudly about not being able to find their friend Kenny Jordan. So loudly that the band had to stop playing and singing and make an appeal for Kenny to join her friends so everyone would quiet down finally and they could go on performing.

"And Kenny wasn't even their long-time friend, just somebody they'd met in the women's toilet!" Ritzy explained with exasperation. "But lots of things happen in the women's toilet. That's where I met our first manager." The five managers they've had since were apparently met elsewhere.

So, if the point of seeing a band in 2019 is to compare them to their 2011 incarnation, the Joy Formidable holds up without embarrassing itself.

The spiky hair may be gone, but the distinctive guitar and enormous pedal board are still hallmarks of their sound, along with Ritzy's voice. They banter between songs much more engagingly and the drummer lets out a drumroll after each clever remark. Polish, that's what they'd acquired.

Me, I'm the one sitting atop the banquette, taking it all in. The only downside is not being able to get up and go to the women's toilet to see if something good awaits me.

Not bloody likely.

No comments:

Post a Comment