Looking back at my online calendar, scrolling through the pale glow of crayon-colored digital embers, I discovered that October was my busiest month for seeing live music in 2022 – be it Richmond or elsewhere.
This was unsurprising, honestly, because October is always my favorite month for just about anything; with the autumnal colors and cooling temps (warmer a little longer this year), the horror flicks, Halloween parties, and the walking dead in Carytown, the sights and sounds of the massive Richmond Folk Festival along the riverfront — and the all-important return of college and NBA basketball season.
I mean, c’mon: Everything great about this country can be found in October’s abundant harvest of happy. This is as it should be; one should emotionally stock up before the gray, winter doldrums take over. Especially ‘round these parts. So please, allow another unsolicited, highly subjective, year-end list from the warm bonfire of musical memories in 2022.
Son Rompe Pera at the Richmond Folk Festival (all performances the weekend of Oct.7-9)
From the first notes of their raucous set on Saturday afternoon beneath the Dominion Dance Pavilion tent, these young punks from Mexico City were one of the most original and inspiring groups I’ve seen at any Richmond Folk Fest. They brought a super high-energy, danceable mix of cumbia and traditional Mexican marimba music with barrio punk and bluesy garage rock – a mutant style that could probably win over just about any crowd, anywhere. (Few people in attendance probably knew this group had previously killed at the New Orleans Jazz Fest). But the most thrilling moment may have been watching them close out the festival on Sunday afternoon from the big Altria stage. For the final song, a punk rock ripper ended with band member, Jesús Gama, single-handedly hoisting up a massive wooden marimba (taller and wider than his body) on his back and swaying it above his head like a giant cross to ward off mediocre folk sounds. I took the iPhone video below from the side of the stage. For a second, the moment reminded me of the guitar-smashing album cover of The Clash’s “London Calling,” because it seemed like the perfect exclamation point on the end of the biggest Richmond Folk Fest ever, while also feeling like a joyful middle finger to the long malaise of COVID.
Bio Ritmo’s 30th anniversary reunion show at Hardywood Park Craft Brewery on Oct. 23
This one gave me all the warm, fuzzy feels to see a packed Hardywood house for this big anniversary show from one of the city’s longest-running musical institutions, indie salsa veterans, Bio Ritmo, who never disappoint. With several former members joining them on and off throughout the set – including original founder and singer Jorge Negron, percussionist Jim Thomson, and musical soul sister, Laura Ann Singh (Miramar) – the whole day took on a huge family reunion vibe. Especially if your family likes to swivel its hips on the dance floor to Fania Allstar bangers. This one was extra fun for me because it took place on my birthday and was much better than a chorus of wheezing kazoos. So muchas gracias to my friends in this amazing group for three decades of wonderful, life-affirming music. (No exaggeration, I’ve never played Bio Ritmo for anybody, anywhere in the world, who didn’t love them.) You’ll see the band again in my favorite compilation/reissues of the year below, way down past more blah blah.
Pavement at the Warner Theatre in Washington, DC, Oct. 6.
As close to indie rock royalty as it gets, Pavement rarely tours anymore but when it does, tickets move fast. This was the first time I had seen them since a Lollapalooza stop at Cal Expo in Sacramento in 1995. Unfortunately, in the wee morning hours of this reunion show, I spent six hours in the hospital emergency room with a kidney stone (the kind of intense pain that makes you curse your creator and/or anybody nearby). So I’m amazed I caught a ride later that day and made it to DC; though nothing will make you feel older than bringing a neon green, hospital barf bag to a concert … and extra water. Still I’m glad I went. The band sounded terrific, nailing a long night of gold sounds and deeper cuts, with singer Stephen Malkmus sounding as he did in the ‘90s. Props also to Bob Nastanovich, a Richmond native and Trinity High School grad who provided some of the night’s highlights with his high energy vocals on songs like “Debris Slide” and “Serpentine Pad.” In fact, band members were giving shout-outs to Richmond groups and friends all night. Side note: Nastanovich has also showed love to current RVA band Piranha Rama, releasing its music on his Broker’s Tip label, and getting them a coveted opening slot for Pavement in Atlanta and Austin. What a mensch, that Bob.
Magnetic Fields at the Paramount Theater in Charlottesville, April 11.
I’ve been waiting awhile to see the great New York singer-songwriter Stephin Merritt and he and his intimate band were worth the quick trip. The droll baritone crooner was in fine form as the Magnetic Fields sat and played through lesser known cuts from its highly acclaimed catalogue, as well as more familiar “hits” like one of my favorites from their famous triple album, “69 Love Songs” – “Papa Was A Rodeo.” Few folks can write songs as witty and irresistibly catchy as Mr. Merritt. It was also a swell night for goofy lyrics like: “You and me, baby, we are like Kraftwerk in a blackout/One of us baby, has always thrown his damn back out … You and me, baby, we are like dolls without voodoo/Goin’ nowhere fast, the Enterprise without Sulu.” Or from the catchy chorus of an early encore selection, “Who’d fall in love with a chicken with its head cut off?” Trick question.
Stereolab at the Jefferson Theater in Charlottesville, Oct. 11
Wish this one hadn’t been on the same night as Kurt Vile at the National, but I decided to go hear the London-formed Stereolab mainly because I’d never seen them before. As expected, it was a groove-heavy night of sweet electro pop with multiple analog synths and French lyrics sung by the ever-charming Laetitia Sadler, who definitely has stage presence. I still had the aforementioned kidney stone when I left Richmond for this gig, though, and was kinda grumps due to major lack of sleep. And yet … good music and a little shimmy shimmy yah goes a long way toward lifting the blues, like the blue-black veil of twilight turning to an ocean of stars. (And that’s not the medication talking.) However, I wasn’t able to find any late night food options before hitting I64 after the concert, not even a lowly Taco Bell among the darkened strip malls. Do better, C’ville. Props, however, to WTJU for having one of the best radio stations in the commonwealth. The deejay I heard in the car had been at the show and ran back to play more Stereolab over the airwaves. It was like the show never ended.
The Circle Jerks w/7 Seconds and Negative Approach at the Broadberry, July 11
After two solid openers at this sold-out show, especially Negative Approach and its always aggressively frowning frontman John Brannon, the Circle Jerks came onstage. They didn’t start right away, though. Nope, first there was a long music history story told by 67-year old lead singer Keith Morris, a one-time Millie’s Diner employee, involving the band’s former label-mate, Tito Puente. It seemed to purposely drag on until finally, with some kids shouting at the stage, the Jerks unleashed a furious volley of punk classics from their 1980 album “Group Sex” starting with the great “Deny Everything.” Definitely a fun summer show, even if Morris understandably wound down as the number of two-minute punk songs went well into the double digits, eventually kneeling on the floor for several songs and lamenting his wasted-ness. “He was a hippie. He was a burnout. He was a dropout. He was out of his head.” Who can blame him, though? Punk is often a young person’s game, but it doesn’t have to be, especially if you have a killer drummer like the Jerks did tonight (Joey Castillo). That helps a lot – bringing us back full-circle to the punk cred of the one-and-only, Tito Puente.
Legendary cellist Yo Yo Ma performing with the Richmond Symphony at Dominion Energy Center, Oct. 4
Yet another October show! Musically speaking, this was way up there and the Richmond Symphony and conductor Valentina Peleggi were amazing. I’m just not a classical critic and won’t even try to write about why I liked it. But I particularly liked Ma’s moving solo encore performance of “Appalachian Waltz,” music that always reminds me of Virginia; as well as the wonderful Appalachian movements in the score to the film, “You Can Count On Me,” by composer Lesley Barber.
Some resolutions for ‘23: Make it to more shows at Fuzzy Cactus, Cobra Cabana and Chilton House (missed some good ones this year), the Get Tight Lounge, and maybe a warehouse filled with young people; find a recording of Divine singing the theme from “Female Trouble,” drink more water, and go see my first show by The Feelies or maybe guitarist Jeff Parker.
The Cosmopolitans “Party Boy” (Beloved): Behold the dance-happy brainchild of Richmond pianist Jamie K. Sims from her days performing with friends at cool clubs in New York City from 1975-1982. This raw, garage New Wave music holds up well with its “Shangri-Las attitude, Hullabaloo choreography, Sam the Sham spirit, and deadpan lyrics” as the liner notes put it nicely. Known for the radio and club hit, “(How to Keep Your) Husband Happy,” this reissue is a must for fans of the B-52s or Blast Off Country Style! Just check out the title track, “Party Boy.” You can further explore or purchase here.
Bio Ritmo “Salsa System” (Electric Cowbell): First time on vinyl, this one was recorded, mixed and produced by multi-Grammy gobbler, Jon Fausty, and let’s just say it’s exceedingly difficult not to dance when you slap this baby on a turntable. If you needed proof that salsa genius resides in RVA, look no further. We’re extremely lucky to have this band in town.
I should also mention the group Miramar, which features two central members from Ritmo alongside the wonderfully talented vocalist, Laura Ann Singh, who as our jazz critic noted was everywhere this year, in a very good way. I can never can get enough songs by Singh, she’s another local treasure (and one of the nicest people).
Ndikho Xaba and the Natives (Mississippi Records) – A lost spiritual jazz classic recorded in the Bay Area that features legendary Richmond saxophonist James “Plunky” Branch, a pillar of the local jazz community. You can read my interview with him about the reissue here.
The Staples Jr. Singers – “When Do We Get Paid?” (Luaka Bop) –Raw gospel from Aberdeen, Mississippi with soulful vocals and a diverse range of rhythms and styles from funk to raucous, party gospel. Or they can get low; check out this slow burner, “Somebody Save Me.”
“Saturno 2000: La Rebajada de Los Sonideros 1962-1983” (Analog Africa): One of the more hypnotic records of the year, this funky compilation released by German label Analog Africa, charts the spacey sounds of itinerant Mexican sonideros, early sound system operators and DJs who would set up in working-class neighborhoods and slow down the speed of Colombian and Peruvian cumbias to a more chill, danceable vibe, incorporating vintage synths. Just imagine psychedelic ice cream truck music for a Sonoran desert rave and you’re halfway there.
Ghost Riders: A compilation” (Efficient Space): The second comp from this Australian label features small pressing American records from the years 1965-1974, compiled by collector Ivan Leichti, most of which you’ve probably never heard before. Plays like a highly personal mix tape filled with moody singer-songwriters and small-town garage groups, and even a trippy cover of one of my all-time favorite Beatles’ songs, “Here, There and Everywhere.”
Ernest Hood – “Back to the Woodlands” (Freedom to Spend): Rescued instrumental and field music recorded in the wilds of Western Oregon between 1972 and 1982 featuring the experimental composer Hood’s expressive zither and synth playing. Ambient, dreamy, outdoors music that you hear upon waking, like Gregor Samsa, as a larger-than-usual insect. Though not quite as big as say, Richmond cock-a-roaches.
More new music from 2022 on rotation (minus all the blah):
Bill Orcutt – “Music for Four Guitars;” Non Plus Temps – “Desire Choir;” Lean Year -“Sides;” Dry Cleaning – “Stumpwork;” Kurt Vile – “watch my moves;” Surprise Chef – “Education & Recreation;” and Stephen McCarthy and Carla Olson -“Night Comes Falling.”