Long night: Music better in small bites

Meredith Bragg, Paul Curreri, and James Mason
Tokyo Rose
Thursday, June 5

Never, in my all to frequent visits to the Tokyo Rose basement, have I seen anything resembling seating impinging on the smooth expanses of floor between the stage and the "seating/sleeping/make-out area" that lines the club's back wall. Except for in that small and secluded area, sitting is not usually an option at the venue, and often the biggest problem visitors must address is finding a cool way to stand. "Hands in the pockets, out of the pockets, cross the arms, weight on hips, right, or left, time for another cigarette?" is the usual train of thought to the common TR inhabitant.

Last Thursday night's show at the Rose did away with this pressing issue entirely; arrayed from the stage to the soundboard were rows of folding chairs, which though they did destroy a bit of the minimalist aesthetic of the basement lair, were quite in check with the night's featured genre. Hold on to your hats kiddies, because the Tokyo Rose basement has gone folk.

The evening began with Meredith Bragg, who turned out, contrary to expectations, to be a man. Bragg, who sounds a bit like '90s rocker Matthew Sweet, is the lead singer in the DC indie-rock group Speedwell, which some (actually just me) would describe as "too shoe-gazing for more than regional fame." Bragg solo on the other hand, does not have much of an other hand: the three-man sweet-and-quiet folk outfit that took the stage bearing his name (drums, keys, and Bragg on guitar/vocals) was fairly un-notable.

Local guitar hero and country folk/blues madman Paul Curreri was on next, the performer most of the unusually well groomed seated audience members had come to see. Curreri's weaving guitar lines, faster than light finger-picking, and melodies often appearing to have come from above, make him an instant favorite of most who have had the pleasure of seeing him, or hearing one of his two albums. Songs from both records graced the night, with tracks like "Fishbowl," an example of lyrical mastery if I've ever seen one ("Creak! As the weathervane dovetails/ Crack! Goes the whole town's neck/As the weathervane cockle-doodle-doos toward what it was pointing at"), from the latter, and a "fucking awful" version of the fabulously country-dark "Bees" from the former. And Curreri even played my favorite song of his, the unrecorded "Cocaine,"– "my mucus membranes are just a memory" is but one of this song's classic refrains.

By the time local folk-rocker James Mason went on, my ride was getting a bit tired, but I successfully pleaded my case and was able to check out four of the singer/songwriter's songs. As I've said before on these pages, Mason's style is easy to compare to Nick Drake's– they both specialize in soft, acoustic, sleepytime tunes– with a healthy dose of folkster Elliot Smith thrown in. Mason sang and played guitar, backed by his brother Christian on second guitar, and did a nice approximation of the sound on his great recently released album, Carnival Sky. From what I heard in my brief exposure, I will definitely be checking Mason out again in the near future.