“The thing that’s important to know is that you never know. You’re always sort of feeling your way.”
— Diane Arbus
If you keep your breath and hold exquisitely still, listening for just the right moment? You might glean the sound of concrete dreams receding like memory alongside the morning fog. The resilient echoes of songcraft and soundglory fading under the the assault of a disapproving sun.
Music is a creature of night. This is a simple truth. Daylight is merely a curse we suffer to make it to the next show.
The jangle and hum of signal noise translating into six string glory? The thrash bang of snare melting into the juxtaposition of a kick pedal slamming against bass drum? These are vital signs of a living system. Cities are moving, breathing behemoths — even the smallest of the breed. Boroughs inhale commerce and exhale school districts. Roadways and thoroughfares. Sewage systems and power grids. But the throbbing heartbeat of a named place? It’s in its songs. Songs made by the people are the pulse of any vibrant city.
Norfolk is no exception. And it has gotten so much better in the past few years.
. . .
Five Bands: Dom the Destroyer, Woven In, Slow Groan, Rhythm Story, & Black Ma
At the the opening of Dom the Destroyer’s set the audience is treated to something of a soliloquy from “The Great Dictator.” As I listen, it occurs to me that if the soul of our nation has a voice, it probably carries a slight British accent. So why not Chaplin? Charlie Chaplin playing at Charlie’s Cafe. I remark on the irony, but the kid sitting next to me doesn’t know what I’m talking about. Charlie who? To him it’s just another sample. No context or underlying thematic elements beyond the spoken words.
To those who can hear me, I say – do not despair. The misery that is now upon us is but the passing of greed – the bitterness of men who fear the way of human progress.”
That the phrasing still manages to retain relevancy three quarters of a century after it was first committed to celluloid is a testament to humanity’s basic ability to fail more than anything else.
. . .
More often than not, nothing goes the way we plan it. So it is in life, and so it almost always goes in the unholy chapel that is live music.
Sometimes electronic equipment refuses to work the way it has every other damn time you’ve plugged it in. Sometimes the bass player disappears the night before your big show. Sometimes the leader of the band spends a little too much time at the open bar while the opening acts are up, and by the time it’s his turn he can barely remember his name — let alone the set list. Sometimes the venue gets shut down for liquor license violations in the middle of your epic guitar solo. Sometimes the whole place catches fire due to faulty electrical wiring and you along with your audience are forced to flee for your lives out into the cold, uncaring night.
Truth be told, this was not an evening of perfect music. And that’s okay. It is the right of small bands to move erratically, and it is the glory of venues like Charlie’s to allow for something less than epic to flourish and grow. There were flashes of brilliance for those who know where to look, and that’s well worth five bucks and a few hours of time.
It’s not in my nature to pick apart Norfolk’s musical progeny for sleights or shortcomings unless serious money is backing their efforts. When you’re a grown up band with a record label and a thirty or forty dollar ticket at the door, I’ll bring out the long knives when you suck. But I leave the barbs at home when it’s a cheap night to hangout with a bunch of bands and sip Tullamore to pass the time.
I’m fascinated by the sound of both Slow Groan and Woven In, both (someone correct me if I’m wrong) out-of-towners who (I believe) are touring without their usual full bands. Slow Groan is some kind of Russian Growl-Folk whatever kind of thing I’ve never heard before, while Woven In plays something that felt like Bauhaus meets early Mazzy Star. I liked what I heard from her enough that I’ve made a note to seek out whatever recordings might exist. Dom the Destroyer and Rhythm Story put on spirited sets with varying degrees of success from song to song. Black Ma displayed a tantalizingly pretty voice but was sadly plagued with technical equipment issues that marred her overall set.
In the end, it turns out that Art isn’t a guaranteed result of pulling a lever.
Sometimes shit happens. And the random nature of things falling apart is the motherfucker of all invention.
. . .
The Featured Poet: Taz Weysweete’
In stark contrast to unevenness of the rest of the evening? Taz Weysweete’ ran away with the show. Her work is stunning, raw, and provocative. A local master of the spoken word. You may know her from a previously published book (Cocoa Blues, 2016) or by word of mouth around the buzz generated from her Broken Woman Project. Simply put, if you have the opportunity to hear her perform, you should pay whatever is being asked for the privilege.
A poet of this substance doesn’t happen all that often, and a ticket to her show is an opportunity to experience revelation.
Kudos to the folks at TBA for being brave enough to throw a poet into the mix from time to time. Poetry is about as popular as Ebola virus cupcakes these days, so it’s a measure of courage on their part.
. . .
One More Thing
Long enough ago for it to be something to look back on, I set out to document Norfolk’s scene within the bits and bytes that get called up whenever a particular search phrase allow visitors to reach these servers. My approach was to essentially record the course I took as I rekindled an appreciation for small bands and local music. To provide narrative aside opinion, reach for some sort of perspective, and take advantage of an itch to shoot some shows along the way. The story was always intended to be about a personal journey of rediscovering a love of music, as much as it was about the music itself.
That said, all good things come to an end, and I’ve decided to strike out on my own. I’ll be launching a new site with a divergent mission focusing on covering the scene primarily through photojournalism in the weeks to come, wholly separate and independent of any other publication. And while you might see me here and there under this masthead when I take occasional paid assignments as they come along, this is for all intents and purposes my last music column for AltDaily.
It’s been a blast. Along the way I covered national acts and was able to interview some of my heroes. Joey Santiago. Peter Fucking Frampton. Ani DiFranco, et al. I was given room to grow as a photographer. I drank a lot of whiskey in between sets, and I’ve fallen deeply, madly in love with Norfolk’s music. I owe most of that to Jesse Scaccia, my editor & brother in arms — for building a house to hold these words. I am grateful beyond measure for the freedom and latitude he has given me over the past few years in publishing this work.
So here in the warmth of this evening’s pub, I raise a pint to Jesse. To all the folks who have ever bothered to read these words. To those brave enough to set the stage or stand upon one. And to everyone in this city who puts their money where their hearts are in support of local music.
I’m proud of what we’ve done together.
Thanks guys. Seriously.
‘Til next time, in the next place?
All photography by Jeff Hewitt. Click here to follow him on Instagram.